Article from Transformative Cities, 2020
In the case presented here as part of Transformative Cities’ collection of initiatives called Atlas of Utopias, pressure from external demand for avocados has turned an entire region into a virtual desert due to the proliferation of water-intensive avocado plantations. Everywhere, access to water resources is becoming a major problem linked to human activities and increasing climate change. Some examples of the link between SSE and water management can be found on socioeco.org.
Unión de Agua Potable Rural de la Cuenca del Río Petorca, Petorca, Chile
What’s unique about the initiative?
The triple challenges of water privatization, expanding agribusiness and the impact of climate change have caused a water crisis in the commune of Petorca, Valparaiso, Chile, where over 6000 people – mostly women and older people – live with a precarious water supply. Water for All is an initiative of the Unión de Agua Potable Rural (ARP), which generates sustainable solutions to the water crisis, strengthens community mobilization, uses socially appropriate technology to conserve and reclaim water, and provides environmental education.
Most outstanding results
Created in 2014 and with very little state support, we supply drinking water to rural communities in Petorca. One of our first actions was to forge alliances with institutions that understand water as a human right and common good, including the University of Playa Ancha and the local government’s Office of Water Affairs. We also took to the streets in protest during the worst water shortages to show our despair at seeing our people sick and our animals dying because of lack of water. These radical actions have attracted media attention and pushed the authorities to take emergency measures.
Our work in collaboration with residents in the commune has resulted in the guaranteeing and protection of water rights; new regulations guaranteeing water-source protection from contamination; treatment, recycling and reuse of sewage; harvesting water from rooftops and atmospheric surface runoff. We also have participatory monitoring of water quality – for example, through training and the use of a community water quality kit we’ve increased community participation in the care and sustainable use of water. We have also attended congress on different occasions to demand a change to the water law. The municipal government has been most receptive to our call, with the municipality of Petorca creating the Office of Water Affairs, the first of its kind in Chile.
Guaranteeing water has allowed us to “sow the future”, to show that it is possible to stay in the state and build a dignified life. And by acting to improve community water systems, we have improved the quality of life of Petorca families through better access to drinking water.
Covid-19 outbreak impact
The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the situation in our state: many rural residents do not have easy access to potable water, and the water they consume from emergency trucks is of very low quality. This precarious access to water in the face of a pandemic has been linked with several cases of the virus in the province. This has led to complaints of human rights violations being filed with the National Institute of Human Rights, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.