A strongly worded statement from the UN has requested the Chilean government to “clarify” its choice to place economic development ahead of human rights, identifying controversial agriculture and energy projects at the heart of its rebuke of the country.
On 20 August Leo Heller, the special rapporteur on human rights to drinking water and sanitation, asked the government to “clarify” its approach to the intensive cultivation of avocados in the central coastal region and the development of the Maipo Hydroelectric Project that is southeast of Santiago.
“The Chilean Government would not be fulfilling its international human rights obligations if it prioritizes economic development projects over the human rights to water and health,” he said in a statement.
“These two projects may put that supply at risk, which is particularly worrying during the COVID-19 pandemic".
A water emergency has been declared in Petorca, the heart of the avocado-growing region, in the midst of a drought that is considered to be the worst in 60 years. The issue is that the government continues to grant new water rights to agricultural companies when one avocado tree uses more water per day than the 50-litre daily quota set for each resident.
The per capita quota was set pre-COVID and does not account for the frequent handwashing necessary to deter the spread of the virus.
The hydro project will divert the Maipo River and its three main tributaries, with a consequent negative impact on the availability of drinking water for the city of Santiago. As bad, the project would worsen the city’s pollution problem by impacting the river basin’s “green corridor”.
The rapporteur's statement is regarded as “harsh” and environmentalists are demanding an official response from the government.