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ECUADOR
Voids in water bill
Luis Ángel Saavedra*
11/18/2009
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Few changes ahead under draft legislation.

Draft legislation for the management of Ecuador´s water resources is worrying local indigenous communities that the porous text violates the constitution and may open up privatizations in the sector.

Ecuador´s new constitution, approved a year ago, establishes water as a basic human right and that it can not be privatized, or subject to any confiscation. It also sets priority uses for water, placing human consumption at the top.

But the new Water Resources bill, currently up for debate in Congress, is worrying some, including indigenous communities, that the text allows for public-private partnerships for the administration of water, even though exclusively private companies are banned from the sector, environmentalist Ricardo Buitrón warned.

The private companies that currently hold concessions to operate in the sector to administrate water in some areas could team up with local governments and continue operating.

The water companies have gained notoriety for their operations. One of the clearest cases is Interagua, which is concessioned to supply Ecuador´s largest city, Guayaquil, with water. But it failed to invest in the necessary infrastructure to bring supply safe drinking water to the poor outskirts of the city.

It also failed to guarantee water quality for the rest of the city, and the country´s Comptroller´s Office recommended cancelling its contract. But President Rafael Correa has allowed the company to continue operating, ignoring not only the Comptroller´s recommendation, but the constitution as well.

Water supplies down
Lawmakers are also discussing lower water supplies facing local governments. In Quito, for example, the local government sought to supply the capital with ample water, but did not foresee this use cutting the resources of the Upano River, which also supplied water to the Amazonian city of Macas. Now the river is not even navigable.

But it is not only the cities that are faced with lower water supplies, but rural Ecuador as well, where both land and water is concentrated in the hands of large agro-exporters and landholders. One example is in Cotacachi, north of Quito, known as the country´s premiere environmentally-friendly district.

Auki Tituaña, who served as the town´s mayor from 1996-2009, had tried to base his administration on pro-environment polices, but he was unable to regain control of the water resources that were used mainly by nearby large farms. The current mayor, Alberto Andrango, is seeking a water law that redistributes the water to the villagers.

"The law does not forbid the concentration of concessions," said Andrango.

Concentration of water use
By failing to attach sanctions to illegal use of water, the bill would actually allow the current situation to continue. According to government statistics, 55 percent of the country´s water is used illegally and 65 percent is used for large farming companies, mining and other industries.

While the constitution prioritizes human consumption of water, and the new bill calls for the protection of current resources, including preventing contamination, it says nothing about penalties for violating that norm.

"It doesn´t include stopping contamination and punishing those who contaminate, alter or destroy sources of water," said Buitrón.

Large farming companies can use the water as they please, particularly in the dry season, which occurred in the communities near the city of Pujilí, in Ecuador´s central highlands. Three years ago, a broccoli exporter began using aerially released chemicals to affect rain patterns, but even though a local judge ruled the procedure was illegal, there are no established penalties for it.

One of the greatest threats to the water supply is mining. The new Mining Law failed to establish norms against pollution or penalties for offenders.

Correa says the water used in the country´s nascent mining industry will not contaminate or deplete local water resources. But the indigenous movement, which supported his candidacy in 2006, was not convinced, and caused large protests last month about this and other pro-business policies in his administration.
—Latinamerica Press.


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Legislation undermines water protection. River Tululbí in the coastal Esmeraldas province. (Photo: Luis Ángel Saavedra).
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