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Osorno water crisis and anti-privatization struggle, Chile

After being disconnected from water supply for ten days, the citizens of Osorno, Chile are demanding compensation and to end the concession to a private supplier.


On the 11.07.2019, an estimated amount of 1,000 liters of petroleum contaminated the water at the Caipulli plant in Osorno, in the region Los Lagos, Chile. Because of a human mistake, hydrocarbonates got into the water source where the drinking water treatment plant is operating. A serious incident, that occurred for the negligence in the plants' management and maintenance [13]. The water source that was affected provides drinking water to 180,000 people in the area who subsequently lost their access since water connections were immediately cut off after the incident took place [1]. The contamination also affected two rivers close to the town, the Rahue river and the Damas river, which led to severe ecological damages. Therefore, on the 12th of July officials declared a health emergency in the town [2]. 

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:Osorno water crisis and anti-privatization struggle, Chile
State or province:Los Lagos
Location of conflict:Osorno
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Water access rights and entitlements
Pollution related to transport (spills, dust, emissions)
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Water
Project Details and Actors
Project details

The company controls 2,179km of potable water pipelines, 1,948km of sewer networks and 27 wastewater treatment plants [8].

Project area:95,130
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:180,000
Start of the conflict:11/07/2019
Company names or state enterprises:Empresa de Servicios Sanitarios de Los Lagos (ESSAL) from Chile - Private actor, responsible for contamination
Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux from France
Relevant government actors:Superintendencia de Servicios Sanitarios (SISS)
Servicio Nacional del Consumidor (SERNAC)
International and Finance InstitutionsWorld Bank CIADI from United States of America
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Local Asociation Red Ambiental Ciudadana de Osorno
Movimiento de Defensa por el acceso al Agua, la Tierra y la Protección del Medioambiente (MODATIMA)

International Supporters:
AbibiNsroma Foundation, GhanaAitec, FranceAlianza Colombiana por la Salud Alimentaria, ColombiaAsamblea Social del Agua Solidaridad, MéxicoAsha Parivar, IndiaAsociación Centro Nacional de Salud Ambiente y Trabajo (CENSAT Agua Viva), ColombiaAsociación Comunitaria Unida por el Agua y la Agricultura (ACUA), El SalvadorAsociación de Municipios y Entidades por el Agua Pública (AMAP), CataloniaAsociación de Usuarios del Agua de Saltillo, MéxicoAsociación Equidad, Sostenibilidad y Derechos Ambientales (ENDA), ColombiaAsociación Argentina de Filosofía Antigua, ArgentinaAssociaciónCatalanad'Enginyeria Sense Fronteres, SpainBlue Planet Project, Canada/InternationalCatholicNetwork.US, United StatesCentral Única dos Trabalhadoresdo Estado do RJ, BrazilCentro di Volontariato Internazionale (CeVI), ItalyCitizen News Service (CNS), IndiaColectivo Educación para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos A.C., MéxicoComisión en Defensa de la Laguna del Cisne, UruguayComisión Nacional en Defensa del Agua y la Vida (CNDAV), UruguayComité Ambiental en Defensa de la Vida, ColombiaCommunity Action Works, United StatesConfederaçao Nacional Dos Urbanitarios, Brazil
Coorasan, Dominican Republic
Corporación Ecológica y Cultural Penca de Sábila, Colombia
Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa, Nigeria
Corporate Accountability, United States
Council of Canadians, Peterborough Chapter, Canada
Council of Canadians, Kawarthas Chapter, Canada
Earth Action, Inc., United States
Ecos El Salvador, El Salvador
Educar Consumidores, Colombia
Equity and Justice Working Group, Bangladesh
European Water Movement, Europe
EuSain, Netherlands
Federaçao Nacional Dos Urbanitarios, Brazil
Flint Rising, United States
Food & Water Action, United States
Food & Water Watch, United States
Food Empowerment Project, United States
Food Chain Workers Alliance, United States
For Love of Water (FLOW), United States
Fresh Eyes, United Kingdom
Fundación para la Comunicación Popular (FUNCOP-CAUCA), Colombia
Fundación Salvadoreña para la Promoción Social y el Desarrollo Económico (FUNSALPRODESE), El
Gestos, Brazil
Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Global
Growthwatch, India
Hazards Centre, India
HUE, Argentina
International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), Colombia
Indian Social Action Forum (INSAF), India
Indigenous Peoples Rights International, Philippines
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, United States
K 136 Thessaloniki, Greece
KRuHA (People’s Coalition for the Right to Water), Indonesia
Lady Freethinker, United States
Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB), Brazil
Macroamb, Brazil
Mesa Colombiana de Incidencia por las Enfermedades Crónicas, Colombia
Mesopotamia Ecology Movement, North Kurdistan
Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, United States
Movimiento por el Agua Pública y Democrática en Barcelona (MAPiD), Cataluña
Mujer y Medio Ambiente, A.C., México
National Fisheries Solidarity Movement, Sri Lanka
Nature Coast Conservation, Inc., United States
Observatoire des Multinacioneles, France
Observatorio Ciudadano de Servicios Públicos, Ecuador
Observatório Nacional dos Direitos a Agua e ao Saneamento (ONDAS), Brazil
Occupy Bergen County (New Jersey), United States
Oil Change International, International
Otros Mundos AC/Chiapas, México
Plataforma Global El Salvador, El Salvador
Public Services International, Global
Public Utility Workers Union of TUC, Ghana
Rapid Shift, United States
Real Food Media, United States
Red Colombiana de Semillas Libres, Colombia
Red Internacional Waterlat Gobacit, Brazil
Vigilancia Interamericana para la Defensa y Derecho al Agua (Red Vida), Latin America/International
Rural Area Development Programme (RADP), Nepal
Samen duurzaam, Holland
Sisters of Charity Federation, United States
SLO CLEAN WATER, United States
Small Planet Institute, United States
Socialist Party, India
The Gaia Foundation, United Kingdom
The Springs Foundation, United Kingdom
The Story of Stuff Project, United States
Thomas Merton Center, United States
Thousand Currents, United States
Topanga Peace Alliance; MLK Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, United States
Transnational Institute, Netherlands
United Services Trade Union (ver.di), Germany
Universidad de Guanajuato, México
Water Citizens Network, Ghana
Water is Life Alliance, Canada/United States
Water Justice & Gender, Netherlands
WATERLAT-GOBACIT Network, United Kingdom
Wellington Water Watchers, Canada
Syndicat National Autonome des Travailleurs de l'Energie, de l'Eau et des Mines du Cameroun( SYNATEEC), Cameroon
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Local government/political parties
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Oil spills, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Health ImpactsPotential: Infectious diseases, Other Health impacts
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Loss of livelihood
Project StatusUnknown
Conflict outcome / response:Court decision (undecided)
Under negotiation
Withdrawal of company/investment
Proposal and development of alternatives:The long-lasting lack of clean drinking water in Osorno due to yet another operational failure by the private provider and its subsequent bad performance to solve the crisis as well as its non-transparent communication led to significant discontent in the population and the increasing demand to transform water supply. Together with the organisation Movimiento de Defensa por el acceso al Agua, la Tierra y la Protección del Medioambiente (MODATIMA) local citizen groups developed a model of water supply that contains not only the de-privatization and transformation of management and decisions to the municipality, but the focus on a community water management system. In such a model social organisations, unions, civil society and authorities are able to make decisions together, such as the value of a tariff (lower than the current one and differentiated by social indicators), the use of profits to invest in modernising infrastructure, in wastewater treatment plants and most importantly, to ensure good quality water [14]. As a result, a citizens' referendum organized in the city of Osorno, against the backdrop of popular demonstrations throughout the country against the cost of living, 90% of voters voted in favor of remunicipalization [10]. Although the results of this consultation are not binding for the government, the vote represents relevant data to consider in the final decision about the reconfiguration of water supply [12].
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:The government needs to adopt the proposed remunicipalisation model with strong focus on a participatory and democratic decision structure in order to fulfil its obligation to provide safe and clean drinking water to every citizens equally and to avoid potential water crisis due to corporate failures in the future. This has to take place despite Suez’s legal threats and political pressure from the few profiting from private management of water as the hegemonic political and economic structure throughout the country. Thereby, Osorno could be the outstanding example in Chile for just and public water management.
Sources & Materials
Juridical relevant texts related to the conflict (laws, legislations, EIAs, etc)

Artículo 25 A de la Ley de Protección al Consumidor: The supplier will not be able to make any charge for the service during the time in which it is interrupted and, in any case, will be obliged to discount or refund the consumer the price of the service in the corresponding proportion.
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References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

[12] Cristián Flores Fernández - SERVICIOS SANITARIOS URBANOS EN CHILE: Revisión crítica de su gestión privatizada a partir de la crisis sanitaria de Osorno. 2020
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[1] Chile Today Osorno Water Crisis: 180,000 People Hope to Have Drinking Water This Week, 16 July, 2019
[click to view]

[2] INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS - In wake of Osorno health emergency in Chile, SUEZ is served notice to amend vigilance plan, 09/07/2020
[click to view]

[3] International Federation for Human Rights- In the wake of the Osorno health emergency in Chile, SUEZ is served notice to amend its vigilance plan, 09.07.2020
[click to view]

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[5] SERNAC buscará compensaciones para los consumidores afectados por corte de agua en Osorno, 15.7.2019
[click to view]

[6] DiarioDeValdivia - Multa por crisis sanitaria en Osorno llega a más de $1.640 millones, 12.08.2020
[click to view]

[7] Corporate Accountability - Sign-on letter: SISS – Hold Essal, Suez accountable for Osorno water crisis
[click to view]

[8] Letter to Superintendent Rivas
[click to view]

[9] Bnamericas - Watchdog mulls terminating Osorno water concession, 22.07.2019
[click to view]

[10] Olivier Petitjean - Remunicipalisation de l’eau : Suez menace le Chili. 19.6.2020
[click to view]

[11] French firm Suez settles one of two disputes with Argentina for €220 million. 25 April 2019
[click to view]

[13] INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS - Questions & Answers: SUEZ is served notice to amend its vigilance plan. 09.07.2020
[click to view]

[14] MODATIMA - Osorno está sin agua! Crónica del desastre ambiental provocado por ESSAL en Julio de 2019. 10.07.2020
[click to view]

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

Alerta sanitaria en Osorno: La ciudad cumple tres días sin agua potable | 24 Horas TVN Chile
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Chilenos de Osorno denuncian que el gobierno no les restituye el agua
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Decretan alerta sanitaria por corte de agua en Osorno | 24 Horas TVN Chile
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Los dueños de agua en Chile: Essal cuestionada por crisis sanitaria en Osorno | 24 Horas TVN Chile
[click to view]

Meganoticias - Osorno cumple 5 días sin agua potable
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Llegan filtros para reponer el agua en Osorno | 24 Horas TVN Chile
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Crisis en Osorno por 5 días sin agua potable: ¿Quién está detrás de Essal? | 24 Horas TVN Chile
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Osorno: volvió el agua, pero no la confianza
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Meta information
Contributor:Luca Scheunpflug, Philipps-University Marburg, [email protected]
Last update08/10/2020
Conflict ID:5251
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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