July 22, 2019

A viable option to confront the water crisis in Chile

Water transition

We must start to think about changing our relationship with water. We are at a turning point and there is no way back. The crisis is imminent and many territories are already suffering the effects of water scarcity or poor quality. In January 2018, BBC Mundo published a story that was titled “Day zero”: 4 keys to understanding why Cape Town may be the first big city in the world to run out of water, referring to April of that year, as the date in which there would be no more water coming out of the taps in the city. A month later, they published that “According to the projections of experts, backed by the UN, by 2030 the global demand for drinking water will exceed the supply by 40% due to a combination of factors such as climate change, human action, and population growth.” This article mentions other 11 large cities that could suffer the same problem: Sao Paulo, Bangalore, Beijing, Cairo, Moscow, Jakarta, Istanbul, Mexico City, London, Tokyo, and Miami.

There is further evidence in the 2019 edition of the World Water Development Report entitled Leaving No One Behind; it indicates that “If the degradation of the natural environment and unsustainable pressures over world water resources continue at the current rate, 45% of the global GDP, 52% of the world’s population, and 40% of the world’s cereal production will be at risk by 2050”.

 

Water Transition, a hopeful look on water

Water is a motor for change. It not only moves nature and the processes that make life possible, but it also has impelled important steps for humanity when it comes to economic, social, and cultural developments such as irrigation technology, storage and distribution infrastructure, reduction of diseases, and we could go as far as stating that the industrial revolution would not have been possible had it not been for steam engines.

In Chile -country that despite its extraordinary water reserves, still ranks within the 30 nations worldwide that have the highest water risk- Escenarios Hídricos 2030 (Water Scenarios 2030) reveals that change is possible. Coordinated by Fundación Chile, Fundación Futuro Latinoamericano, and Fundación Avina, and after more than two years of work, it has just launched its publication Water Transition: The Future of Water in Chile.

Through an extensive two-year process of cross-sectional dialogue, 55 public and private institutions, NGOs, academia, and territorial actors, were able to agree on relevant issues and possible solutions for the water problem, and have materialized it in a publication that offers a new look at this resource.

Amid probable obstacles that will arise when addressing the urgent situation of water, that is rooted in the multiplicity of visions and variables that enter in the development paradox; the work of Water Scenarios 2030 has shown that when adequate conditions are generated and dialogue is held in equal conditions, it is possible to address the water challenges with a collective and long-term integrative perspective to define a sustainable vision of the resource.

Water Transition: The Future of Water in Chile shows the possible water scenarios of six basins (Copiapó, Aconcagua, Maipo, Maule, Lebu, and Baker) in the case of continuing to do the same things done up to the present, and in the case of the desirable future.

 

Water Transition Proposal Outline

This unprecedented water management proposal in Chile is based on a water transition that addresses the existing gap and considers four lines of action. In first place, the management and institutionality of water, as the fundamental gear that mobilizes and enables solutions in the short, medium, and long terms. In second place, it aims to protect and conserve water ecosystems, given they are fundamental sources for life, providers of multiple ecosystem services, and any possible development. The third line highlights the efficiency and strategic use of water, it aims to manage the water demand responsibly; moreover it extends an open invitation to advance in the prioritization of the use of the resource, where the human right to water is guaranteed. Lastly the 4th line consists in the migration and incorporation of new water sources, where the intensive users of the resource must be decoupled from the natural water sources in the basin, leaving it available for other uses connected to the conservation and maintenance of vital processes.

 

Water Transition Lines of Action

In addition, this initiative brings in a portfolio of over 200 solutions that have been analyzed from a legal, economic, social, and environmental perspective. This material, in coherence with the Water Transition proposal, shows that the necessary interventions and solutions may differ from the ones that have been discussed for a long time, almost as the only viable alternatives.

This is how there is a set of solutions that in addition to providing high and medium volumes to cover the water gap, they have the lowest relative investment costs, positive environmental impact (84%) for the recovery and conservation of water ecosystems, relevant institutions to be implemented in a short term (52%) and low social impact (80%) that could lead to conflicts. This, technically indicates that it is possible to start with the Water Transition to reduce the current gap, and that the dialogue between its different actors, despite their differences, is possible. The foundation of the road for this trip, is already in place.

Andrés Pesce, VP of Business Development and Sustainability at Fundación Chile explained that the contribution of this enterprise will set the foundations for the prioritization of measures, which depends on each territory. “The next step is to delve into a more specific and granular conversation, and from there, generate the discussion so as not to be trapped in a waterless swamp.” He stressed, “We must either agree or limit our development. The discussion has been stuck on the water code reform, and we must understand that we can take many actions that the code cannot solve”.

Finally, we must note that if 44% of the causes of water problems -other than the results shown in the publication- relate to management and governance, it is undeniable that national leadership and the commitment of all public, private, and citizens is required to thrust the engine of change for water security. “There are currently more than 40 state agencies related to water management and we still do not have water policies, capacities or resources to deal with the current situation and provide water security for the future. If we continue down this path, water will be a limitation for the development of our country in the future,” stated Ulrike Broschek, Director of Water Scenarios 2030.

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