Moving Past Bolivia's “Water Wars”

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Posted on 4/4/2013

Located in South America, Bolivia is a country facing tremendous challenges, especially water scarcity. With approximately 60 percent of the population living below the poverty line, access to even basic amenities such as clean water can be sparse. For Bolivian children, these struggles are even more pronounced. Around six out of every 10 children in Bolivia live without access to education, health care and healthy food, and approximately half of Bolivia's children live in poverty. ChildFund has worked in Bolivia since 1980, and we helped families deal with the impact of the country's "water wars" that occurred in 2000 and still affect some today.

A Precious Commodity: Bolivia’s Water Crisis

The Bolivian water wars focused almost entirely on the city of Cochabamba, located in one of the driest valleys in the country. In 1999, city officials privatized water access. A consortium of international companies was the only bidder for the contract, which involved providing access to water in Cochabamba and other regions, as well as building a dam. The consortium also agreed to pay a $30 million debt incurred by the municipal agency that previously oversaw the country's water supply, driving user rates up to $20 a month, exacerbating the water crisis.

Outraged by the situation, thousands of Bolivians marched through Cochabamba, demanding the decision be reversed. Many people were injured during these protests, and at least one civilian was killed during a violent clash with local law enforcement.

Although the government ultimately revoked the consortium's contract and turned oversight of water access to a group of community leaders, the water crisis in Cochabamba remains. The city is one of the poorest in Bolivia, and growing food in Cochabamba is virtually impossible due to the arid climate. To make matters worse, the area's infrastructure is insufficient to meet the needs of local people, and some parts of the city lack electricity, running water or even paved roads. For families living in Cochabamba, water scarcity is an ongoing struggle.

Working in Partnership

Since coming to Bolivia in 1980, ChildFund has worked with regional organizations to improve the lives of Bolivian children and their families. One such group is our local partner in Cochabamba, Obispo Anaya. Through this partnership, we have been able to provide families living in Cochabamba with access to purified water. In addition, we have launched several educational initiatives to help people learn about responsible water usage and conservation.

Another key focus of our partnership with Obispo Anaya is improving access to adequate sanitation facilities. Because water scarcity is so severe in Cochabamba, proper sanitation is difficult to achieve. However, we have worked to provide access to better sanitation and hygiene systems, which in addition to improving the quality of life in Cochabamba, also helps reduce the spread of preventable diseases and waterborne bacteria.

Our water programs in Cochabamba have made a real impact on the lives of families in the region. For some, the cost of water was proving to be a tremendous burden, but thanks to ChildFund and Obispo Anaya, many families can now access safe, clean water without spending such a large portion of their income.

"We don't need to buy bottled water anymore or boil it," said Luisa, a community leader with Obispo Anaya. "We used to spend much more money for water. We still have to buy it from the water truck, but we spend less. They have taught us how to better clean our house and avoid diseases, and how to use water better and wash our hands, and I can see the difference, as my little babies don't get sick anymore, as the elders did."

Bringing Hope

Conditions in Cochabamba have improved substantially since the water wars of 2000, but many families still have limited access to clean water and adequate sanitation systems. To help us continue to bring hope to these families and their children, please consider making a donation to our Essentials for Survival fund. For just $15 per month — around 50 cents per day— you can help ChildFund provide clean water and other essentials to families living in poverty.