DURATION: 60 min.
Can you imagine a water market? A market where owners of water stock would buy and sell, while others would profit on its price without needing it? What would life be like if all of the planet’s water resources, superficial or subterranean, the waters of rivers, lakes and glaciers, belonged to the private sector?
‘Life For Sale’ examines the biggest water market in the world, set up in Chile. Where the country’s water resources do not belong to the state but to private individuals and one company can own an entire river and possess a quantity of water as big as Belgium. A place where water has turned from a public good of life to property and a ‘water right’ can cost as much as a house. Even in the Atacama desert, which is considered the driest place on the planet, the mining companies – big owners of Chile’s longest river, the Rio Loa – draw immense quantities and use valuable water to wash metals, thus condemning thousands of natives and farmers’ villages to thirst and poverty.
Written, Produced & Directed by Yorgos Avgeropoulos / Produced by Manolis Filaktidis & Georgia Anagnou/ Research Coordinator: Aggelos Athanasopoulos / Production Manager: Anastasia Skoubri / Director of Photography: Yiannis Avgeropoulos / Editing: Yiannis Biliris, Anna Prokou / Original Music by Yiannis Paxevanis / Graphics: Sakis Palpanas / A Small Planet production for Greek Public Television ERT © 2009 – 2010
Original shooting format: HD 1080p / Languages: Greek, Spanish / Subtitles: Greek, English, French, Spanish / Available Versions: Greek, English, French, Spanish, International
- FIRST PRIZE AS THE BEST INTERNATIONAL DOCUMENTARY / 13th Cinemambiente Environmental Film Festival / Turin, Italy / June 2010
- FIRST PRIZE, “Environment and Sustainable Development section” / 6th edition of the Latin-American Independent Film and Documentary Festival / Mexico City / April 2010
- PRÉMIO ÁGUA from Júri Internacional / Cine'Eco 2010 - Festival Internacional de Cinema e Video de Ambiente / Seia, Portugal / October 2010
- 2nd AUDIENCE AWARD - CI(NE)MAMERICHE, Film festival della migrazione e del gusto, November 30 - December 8, 2011 - Levante, Italy
- MENÇÕES HONROSAS from Júri da Juventude / Cine'Eco 2010 - Festival Internacional de Cinema e Video de Ambiente / Seia, Portugal, October 2010
- SPECIAL MENTION / FINCA - 1er Festival Internacional de Cine Ambiental / City of Tigre, Buenos Aires, Argentina / October 2010
Water rights for sale, lifelong
Location: 1 kilometer from Villarica, Chile
Quantity: 3.000 liters per second
Type: Drinkable (for consumption)
Price: 634.000 Euros
Published advertisement in Chilean Media
All water resources in Chile, with the exception of sea waters, have been ‘divided’ into rights, the so called ‘water rights’. These ‘water rights’ are lifelong ownership titles separated from land and have commercial value, exactly like a house or an estate. You can lease it, use it, or keep it without exploiting it waiting for the right moment to sell it at the highest profit.
In a country considered as a pioneer in the implementation of neoliberalism and privatizations all water resources are up for sale. Rivers, lakes and subterranean waters end up in the hands of private individuals, companies and profiteers who consider water a profitable investment. In Chile water is no longer an inalienable right but a commercial product. In other words; if you are a farmer you cannot water your farm even if it’s next to a river since this river may be someone else’s property. Furthermore, if you have no ‘water rights’ and get caught taking water you will be arrested.
It all began in 1981, during the Pinochet dictatorship when the Water Code bill (Código de Aguas) was passed, a packet of laws that changed the status of water, establishing that water is no longer public property but a private commodity.
The biggest problem is occurring in north Chile, in the Atacama desert, which is considered the driest territory on the planet. These soils, where the native Indian tribes Aymara and Lickan Antay have lived since ancient times, are rich in minerals and metals. Chile is the third largest supplier of copper in the world. The companies that exploit the huge copper mines of this area have acquired ownership of the waters of Rio Loa, the country’s longest river. In the past the river water was a source of life for the area but nowadays vast quantities of water are used to separate copper from stone.
Chuquicamata is among the three largest copper mines in the world. From above it looks like a huge crater, one of the biggest holes ever dug by humans on this planet. It is 1 kilometer deep, 4,9 kilometers long and 3 kilometers wide. This dust covered place is the heart of the country’s economy. It works non-stop 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, with a staff of 8,000 people, churning an average 11.000 dollars every minute that goes by. The mine is exploited by state run company Codelco. « North Codelco, where Chuquicamata is, consumes around 1.900 liters of water per second», says Godoi Aleman, a civil engineer. 1.900 liters per second is the amount of water consumed in one day by 432.000 Americans, or 1.216.000 Europeans, or 16.416.000 Africans.
«It all boils down to money! To me it is as simple as this. To them we worth less than a peso, that’s why we remain in the margins. The country has other priorities, dollars and money coming from copper. What about us? We might as well die, for all they care!», says Miguel, one of the last farmers in Quillagua, a town that once was boasting with life but today has turned into a ghost city. The residents have migrated to Kalama, which owes its economic growth to the copper mines in the area.
The national sovereignty of Chile is now mortgaged, as 85% of first class waters (rivers and lakes) no longer belong to the country but to International Spanish energy production company, ENDESA. What’s more, all potable water supply and sewage companies are now in the hands of big economic conglomerates and international companies, such as consortiums Solari, Luksic, Vicuña, Leon and companies Αnglean Water, Thames Water (Great Britain), Iberdrola (Spain), Suez Lyonnaise Meaux (France). This latter company owns Aguas Andinas, the company that supplies water to the capital, Santiago.
The center left government of Chile under Michelle Bachelet is trying today to balance between scrapping the remains of the decade long dictatorial Pinochet regime (including still active laws) and harmonizing the country’s economy with the international market. In spite of reforming some laws in 2005 which stipulated that when someone didn’t use his water rights but kept the water in order to sell it later and profiteer from due to the rise and drop of prices would be fined, the situation has not improved that much. The fine is too low to prevent profiteering. The government is trying to reform the Constitution but claims that the right wing opposition is blocking these changes.
Under these circumstances, the native population is striving to cope with the consequences of the full commercialization of a commodity that few believed would come under market laws, where the only criterion is the profit margin of a handful of private companies. However, the ex leader of the Atacama native people predicts the ominous future in a few simple words: «Water and land go together. One is the female and the other one is the male. Water is not mine, I am part of it. Land isn’t mine either, I am part of her. Humans come and go. And despite this we want to mess with the earth. But we have never succeeded. Because at some point earth will send the bill. And earth does not ask for money, she gets paid in blood».