Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Water Rights

Water has long been an issue in Cochabamba, and this summer some of our students will have a chance to get involved directly in the struggle for what in Bolivia are known as water rights. Cochabamba is internationally famous for the "Water War" of 2000, when residents of Cochabamba's various neighborhoods took to the streets to protest the government's plan to privatize water service by selling the rights to water to a transnational corporation. After days of protest, the government backed out of this agreement and returned administration of water to the municipal utility company. This event has been hailed as a defeat of the forces of globalization and the assertion of local rights to natural resources.

However, in the poor barrios of Cochabamba, people continue to live without access to water through a public delivery system. Instead, they have to buy their water from trucks that deliver it to their homes, and store it in barrels until they are ready to use it. To try and improve this situation, many communities formed local water committees, which work to bring water services into their neighborhoods.

This year, for the first time, two groups of our students will be working with water committees in two different barrios, to help them in these efforts. We are lucky enough to be working with Marcela Olivera, a Cochabamba-based activist who has been collaborating with the water committees for many years, and who was involved herself in the original Water War. Marcela will also be a visiting scholar next fall at Rutgers' Center for Women's Global Leadership. This will be an amazing opportunity to learn about the struggle for water rights while contributing to the ongoing campaigns to improve access to water for local residents.

For more information about the Water War and Marcela, watch this video clip from the program "Democracy NOW!":


Alana C said...

DG, have these committees built rainwater reserves like some people have in their backyards? That would be a fun hands-on project but would it be worthwhile, hows the rain fall over there?

Daniel Goldstein said...

Rainfall is poor, water more likely comes from connection to the central network. These are the projects that we will be working on.

MO said...

Thanks for this post. I've been interested in the water war for a long time and this clip is a great example of one element of the struggle. Marcela Olivera is so good at presenting the events in a way that the international community can understand and sympathize with. She says that president Banzer ignored the street protests on the day the water contract was signed - because he was used to that sort of "background noise." That is, Bolivians have been protesting for a long time (and at times the protests have been game changing). After all is said and done, I'm curious as to how important the protesters' ability to make international connections (even just present their case to a sympathetic community) is in the outcome. (M.Olander)