Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Chile's Constitution: Water to be a Matter of National Security

A proposal by Chile's outgoing President, Michelle Bachelet would put an amendment to the Chilean Constitution saying that acces to fresh water is a matter of national security.  According to the article "CHILE: Water a Matter of National Security" by Daniela Estrada, from the Inter Press Service:  
The legal text recognises that freshwater, which is lacking in the Chilean north and abundant in the south, has become a "scarce good" and that its availability is "a matter of national security," much more than fossil fuels, which can be imported from other countries.
The proposed amendment would undo a law of 1981 (the Water Code) which effectively privatised Chile's fresh water reserves.  The government's proposal states: "with the implementation of a new Water Code, an imbalance resulted between the common good and the interests of a few individuals, an imbalance that must be corrected."  Therfor, this reform seems to be more about a conflict between public and private use of water.  Apparently, under Chilean constitution, once a good is declared a priority of national security, then the government can break contracts or expropriate private property to more effectively or equitably distribute that good. 

Talking about the economic or social impacts of such a policy are beyond the scope of this blog.  However, it leads to some interesting conceptual possibilities, if climate change alters the Chile's water supplies.  The article states: "Chile is a world leader when it comes to freshwater reserves in the form of glaciers. According to the latest inventory by the government's water agency, there are more than 3,500 glaciers, covering some 20,000 square kilometres." If those glaciers all melt (I won't venture to say a date: that has gotten some in trouble recently), then you could see the government (and military) taking charge of water supplies in order to ration them among competing groups: mining, hydro power, agriculture, sewage, and drinking water would all have claims on scarce resources.  If the government does not fairly apportion rights to water, its fairly easy to see how conflict could develop over these water rights, either against the government or between these stakeholder groups.  Just labeling water as a 'matter of national security' does not make these decisions any easier.


  1. hi friends! cool blog!

  2. However, it leads to some interesting conceptual possibilities, if climate change alters the Chile's water supplies.