April 27, 2012

Environmental Implications of Water Privatization in South America

Paul Pasterik, Advisor: Barbara Younoszai

The Cochabamba riots of Bolivia in 2002 started the debate over water privatization in South America. The blunder of Cochabamba was one of the many cases in which the World Bank has packaged water privatization along with the austerity measures required for aid money. Water management around the world has come into discussion in the past decades, specifically in Asia and Africa. While South America’s water resources are plentiful, they still face the environmental concerns that have plagued Asiatic and African water distribution. Despite Bolivia’s negative experience with water privatization, many South American countries continue to utilize privately-run water distribution systems. Chile, Colombia, Brazil and Argentina have also faced challenges in the field of water privatization. Their approaches, along with the social, political and economic problems and successes of each operation, will be discussed in this paper. South American governments must now assess their water management methods and the possible impacts upon various aspects of environmental quality, including river basin, watershed and wastewater management. Coupled with the lack of powerful supervisory bodies to evaluate environmental impacts, the question remaining is to see how the countries involved will react to said concerns. This study was conducted within the context of water management problems worldwide with a focus on South America. The investigation compares three nations: Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay, and measures the sustainability of their respective water systems. Water management was evaluated using the following three criteria: existing environmentally-protective legal framework, handling of environmental concerns within each country, and the execution of development loans. It seeks to analyze the state and private management of our most precious resource, water.