Cochabamba Water War, Bolivia


In 1999 the US company Bechtel was granted the concession to manage water services in Cochabamba, Bolivias third largest city. The cost of water tripled and it became necessary to buy a license to access water resources and a licensing system for collecting rainwater was also introduced. After a year, 55 percent of local citizens still did not have access to water. In April 2000, hundreds of thousands marched on the streets of Cochabamba to protest against the Government, and forced it to revoke the Water Privatisation Law. The contract with the multinational company Bechtel was terminated and the water service concession re-advertised. The conflict, known as the Cochabamba Water War, became symbolic of the struggles fought to protect common rights, proving that popular participation could have a major influence on decision making in regard to the management of public services.

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Basic Data
NameCochabamba Water War, Bolivia
Accuracy of LocationHIGH local level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Water access rights and entitlements
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific Commodities
Industrial waste
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe increase in the water bills was of 300 percent. The average monthly water bill reached around US$12, while the average monthly wage was around US$60.

percent of local citizens did not have access to water in 1999.
Project Area (in hectares)28400
Type of PopulationUrban
Potential Affected Population600000
Start Date1999
Company Names or State EnterprisesInternational Water Ltd (IWS) - IWL was controlled by the American multinational company Bechtel and by the Italian company Edison - controlled by AEM di Milano, the Municipal Company of Milan, Italy. Today, the company operates as a subsidiary of Bechtel
EDISON International from Italy
ABENGOA S.A. from Spain
SEMAPA from Bolivia - public utility of the municipality of Cochabamba
Relevant government actorsMinistry of the Interior - Bolivia, Bolivian Army and police, Government of Cochabamba
International and Financial InstitutionsThe World Bank (WB) from United States of America
International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID) from United States of America
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersFEDECOR, Associations of Farmers, Students and Workers of Cochabamba, Movimiento Cocalero, Observatory on Debt and Globalization, Committee for the Defence of Water and Life (Cochabamba)
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginIn REACTION to the implementation (during construction or operation)
Groups MobilizingIndigenous groups or traditional communities
Informal workers
Local ejos
Local government/political parties
Social movements
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Community-based participative research (popular epidemiology studies, etc..)
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Referendum other local consultations
Street protest/marches
Health ImpactsVisible: Malnutrition, Deaths
Potential: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures
Project StatusStopped
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseDeaths
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Project cancelled
The decrease on the water price. End to privatization of urban water services. Water as a human right.
Development of Alternatives0
Do you consider this as a success?Yes
Why? Explain briefly.The water prices became as low as before the water privatization.
Sources and Materials

Law n21060 in 1985

Law 2029


Oscar Olivera, Cochabamba water wars, 2004,
[click to view]

Cochabamba y la nueva conciencia sobre el Agua. Fobomade 2001.

La guerra por el agua y por la vida. Ana Esther Ceceña. 2004

Los campesinos regantes en la guerra del agua de Cochabamba. Fedecor 2002.

Villas de Chilimarca. Un proyecto alternativo de alcantarillado. A Sud 2006

Perfiles de la protesta - Poltica y movimientos sociales en Bolivia. John Crabtree. 2005

Miradas, Voces y Sonidos. Conflictos Ambientales en Bolivia. Gruenberger, Jenny (Edit.). OLCA. 1999

Juicio de responsabilidades a Gonzalo Snchez de Lozada y sus colaboradores. Carovana internazionale in Bolivia. A Sud. 2005

Revista Latinoamerica e tutti i sud del mondo N83-84. 2003

Las canillas abiertas de Amrica Latina II. La Lucha contra la privatizacin del agua y los desafos de una gestin participativa y sustentable de los recursos hdricos. Grosse, Robert; Santos, Carlos; Taks, Javier; Thimmenl, Stefan. Ed. Zonalibro. 2006

Revista Semillas N28: El agua un bien pblico patrimonio de los pueblos. 2006


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ContributorLucie Greyl & Joan Martinez Alier
Last update30/12/2015