Chile has gone farther than any other country in the world in commodifiying water and creating a market economy based on private water rights. The process started with the 1981 Water Code enacted by the military regime of the time, and was based on a strong pro-business bias. For the first time in Chile’s history, land and water were separated in order to allow for the unconstrained purchase and sale of water. While water was defined as a “national public good,” in the code, it was also defined as a “market asset,” allowing the privatization of water through the granting of rights for free and in perpetuity to big corporate interests. Once water rights are granted, the state no longer has the power to intervene and the reallocation of these water resources is done through the buying and selling of water markets.
Conflicts Over Water in Chile: Between Human Rights and Market Rules is excerpted from an excellent report by Chile Sustentable showing that this process has been an unmitigated disaster for the people of Chile and for the water supplies and the ecosystem.