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Chile's water dilemma, Latin America's most water-stressed country

  • Chile's water dilemma, Latin America's most water-stressed country
  • According to the World Resources Institute, Chile faces "high water stress" as demand for water significantly exceeds its availability.
  • A study by Fundación Chile highlights that 44% of water problems are due to failures in water management and governance.
  • To strengthen water management, public-private collaboration is being promoted, which is crucial for the development of River Basin Organisations in Chile.

About the entity

The water crisis in Chile has intensified, placing the country in a critical position in Latin America. According to the World Resources Institute, Chile faces "high water stress" as demand for water significantly exceeds its availability. The situation is aggravated by inadequate water management and water governance problems. In this regard, a study by Fundación Chile highlights that 44% of water problems are due to failures in water management and governance, followed by the impact of productive activities with 17% and chemical pollution in agribusiness with 14%.

Furthermore, according to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) in 2022, Chile is currently experiencing the longest water crisis in the last thousand years; a "mega drought" that has already lasted thirteen years. Researchers at the University of Chile developed an interactive platform in July last year that provides climate and water availability data over the past six decades to aid decision-making in the midst of this prolonged drought affecting central and southern Chile.

Chile's water challenges

The challenges presented by the water crisis in Chile are multifaceted. The United Nations report "Water Scarcity in Chile: Challenges Ahead" highlights several critical issues, including the effects of climate change, inadequate management of water resources, lack of adequate infrastructure, and a legal framework that does not prioritise human consumption of water. Specifically, Chile's water challenges are: (1) the effects of climate change; (2) pressures from productive and/or extractive activities; (3) non-integrated management of water resources; (4) lack of adequate infrastructure; (5) the legal framework that does not make explicit the human right to water and does not prioritise human consumption; (6) institutional dispersion in decision-making; and (7) limited availability and use of data for decision-making.

Chile's water crisis has intensified, placing the country in a critical position in Latin America

Furthermore, this report emphasises that the most vulnerable populations, especially in rural and poor areas, are the most affected, a situation exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The roadmap

In the face of this crisis, the Chilean government has responded with measures implemented within the different plans put in place, such as the National Plan for the Rehabilitation of Small Reservoirs, Dams and Canals, the Reservoir Plan, rural drinking water initiatives and indications to bills on desalination, regeneration and reuse of sewage, and aggregate extraction. Recently, the installation of a desalination plant in Coquimbo for 2029 has also been announced.

However, despite the existence of twenty scarcity decrees in force in eight regions of the country, which means that almost 6 million 300 thousand people in 128 communes live in drought, according to the Minister of Public Works, Jessica López, experts suggest that a significant improvement in water management is needed, emphasising the need for an integrated management of water resources that focuses on coordination between different actors and sectors, as well as regulation and control of water use. In addition, wastewater reuse and ecosystem restoration are considered essential as part of a sustainable approach.

To strengthen water management, public-private partnerships are being promoted

Likewise, in order to strengthen water management, public-private collaboration is being promoted, which is crucial for the development of Basin Organisations in Chile. This collaboration seeks to integrate resources and knowledge from both sectors for a more effective and sustainable water management, and to outline the paths to follow in the face of the water emergency that the country is experiencing.

These proposals are aligned with the recommendations of various organisations and experts that highlight the importance of water governance and institutionalism to face this crisis. Consequently, the situation calls for a multifaceted approach ranging from technology to legislation and public awareness.

Future perspectives

Future perspectives include the use of advanced technologies for desalination and water treatment, a thorough review of water legislation and management, adaptation to climate change, education and public awareness on efficient water use, as well as international cooperation to exchange experiences and knowledge.

This comprehensive vision is crucial to address Chile's water crisis in a sustainable and efficient manner. The active participation of all sectors, including public-private collaboration, will be key to overcome current challenges and ensure a more secure water future for Chile.

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