1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Markets, Business and Regulation (2000 - 2009), Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Inequality and Access to Water in the Cities of Cochabamba and La Paz-El Alto (Draft)



Within the process of urbanization of Latin America, Bolivia stands out as an interesting case because of its high population dynamics. In this context, the identification of the patterns of changes in water and land use, and the spatial distribution of poverty in La Paz and Cochabamba become a challenge to show the unequal conditions of the privatization process. The ‘Water War’ in Cochabamba during April 2000, showed the world the consequences of the unfair conditions of the processes of privatization of the basic services in Bolivia.

Bolivia has become emblematic when referring to water privatization issues. The "Water War" in Cochabamba is one of the most publicized cases of privatization failures. On the other hand, the case of the "Aguas de Illimani" in La Paz/El Alto water concession is less publicized but also known for the efforts to correct contract design in order to make the water concession "pro-poor". But the actions are "against poor", so it is important to have good control at a multidimensional level to try to change these unfair conditions.

The access to water at the household level by poor people (especially female) reduces vulnerability towards poverty: without access to sufficient and reliable water, people are excluded from a range of options that would allow them to diversify and secure their sources of food and income. People require good quantities of water. The richest household in Cochabamba, typically consume around 165 litres per person per day and do not pay more than 1% of the family income for this quantity. The poorest household consumes only 20 litres per person per day but pay more than 10% of the low family income. The author believes that finding ways to provide and manage the use of similar amounts of water in support of poor people's livelihoods is vital.

In Bolivia, the Structural Adjustment Programme has increased inequalities and vulnerability and the effects of social differentiation. Levels of vulnerability have risen in La Paz and Cochabamba because this is a dynamic process of private and public interactions that trigger and maintain the exclusion of a high number of households. In addition, as a result of globalisation, market laws impose a certain understanding of reality, with individuals who no longer fit in and people who have been deprived of the rights they have as citizens. But, if the issue is approached from the angle of vulnerability, the analysis can include components such as ‘wishes' and the transforming capacity of individuals, for all human beings have the skills and strengths and strong links of social solidarity. It is here where there could be measures that permit people to recover or gain access to their rights as citizens'. Such measures could become elements which allow for a recovery of hope and, hence, for a more sustainable future.