Translated by Eliana Cintia Scasserra, Grecia Zamateo de Luna and Pía Errozarena
It might be said that, due to the progress of globalisation, talking about water has many meanings, according to the interests and the needs of the one who talks about it: a common good from the nature threatened by climate crisis, an essential human right that the State must guarantee, a key resource for the economic and social development, a limited good that reveals the levels of social inequality, a core element of the health policy in times of pandemic, a reason to fight against the transnational extractivism, an invisible export commodity.
Water, which is essential for life sustainability, is nowadays a meaning in dispute. We have even read —swinging from a feeling of surprise to a feeling of frustration— its recent addition to those goods listed on stock exchanges in the Wall Street market. This fact is another demonstration of the deep commodification process that common goods from nature are undergoing. Any day, water became part of the financial speculation.
For this reason, the World Water Day is necessary to think about water from its community, democratizing and equal access perspective, that is to say as a means to guarantee a decent and autonomous life. In order to follow this path, it is key to start identifying the inequalities.
In Argentina, as it happens in many other countries in the region, there are inequalities regarding running water access and availability between rural and urban areas. Approximately 5.3 million people do not have access to running water in their homes, and near 1 million people do not have such access within its venue (2010 National Census). This issue is even worse in some provinces, such as those which comprises the Great Chaco, where 41 % of homes do not have water. 2.8 % of the Argentinean population has to travel on a daily basis to get water.
Based on socially assigned gender roles, women play a major part in non-paid domestic tasks, water and food provision, and care tasks in general. In many cases, they generate and manage community-based projects in subsistence economies.
Women living in households with access limitations to safe drinking water spend in domestic work and unpaid care from 5 to 12 hours per week longer than women living in households without such deprivation. In isolated or dispersed rural areas, they usually carry the water of the tankers or wells, which demands them 4 to 6 hours daily.
These dynamics have an impact in different spheres: greater use of the time destined to the management of the water and domestic chores limits the development of other productive activities and, therefore, it affects the possibilities of generating incomes and their economic autonomy. In addition, it has an impact on their state of health and sanitation, since in many cases the collected water is not safe for consumption neither for cropping nor farming, which puts at risk the food security of families. With the expansion of the COVID, this problem has increased given the shortage of an element considered central in health protection.
Water as a banner of struggles and resistance
Historically, water has also been at the center of disputes for the defense of territories and goods because of projects related to mining mega-projects and great scale intensive agricultural production that includes the use of agrochemicals. But on a community basis, organized movements and groups have emerged before the threat on means of livelihood.
In Chubut, for example, for 18 years there have been uninterrupted protests against mega-mining that pollutes water with toxic chemicals such as cyanide. The mobilization known as the #chubutaguazo took place on the public agenda in recent months. It showed that there is no social license for mega-mining progress and that it is necessary to debate the consequences that these development models bring on goods, territories and people.
Likewise, the defense of water in Mendoza has become a historical struggle. Conformed in an assembly under the slogan “water is worth more than gold”, the people of Mendoza prevented the modification of the law that protects the use of water against this type of activity.
Also, the debate on the need for a wetland law to protect these freshwater reservoirs that favor productive activities has been strongly installed on the public agenda, making it visible that environmental demands are also social demands.
Water as a common good is also strongly threatened by the climate crisis, to which are added the impacts of the economic and health crisis, deepening inequalities in its access.
From EWB-Ar we accompany different isolated communities of Santiago del Estero, through the water program, with the implementation of systems that include the construction of roofs to capture rainwater and wells for storage.
This special date calls us to collectively reflect on all those places where water is in dispute. Also, to think about multisectoral spaces that allow us to share knowledge and experiences to tackle the problem in a comprehensive way. Starting from considering it a common good of nature is key to favoring equal human development.