Is access to clean water for public use a human right? According to Luis Infanti, the Roman Catholic bishop of Aysen in Chile, the answer is yes. This week marks the opening of Chile’s “First Cabildo for Water,” a meeting organized by the Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life, comprising civil society and religious groups.
People from all over Chile are attending and bringing water samples taken from lakes, streams, and rivers in their communities to be blessed by Bishop Infanti. “Water has often been captured, kidnapped and commodified,” said Infanti, according to Agenzia Fides , “but we know that it must give life and reach all our brothers and sisters, flow in abundance and not be anyone’s privilege.”
The cabildo occurs at the same time that the Chilean Congress is hashing out  how to define a glacier—a battle that could determine the future of public access to water and the future of mining in the world’s largest copper-producing country. Legislation to ban mining in glacial watersheds has sparked renewed debate among Chileans on how to protect the vital water supplies and fight back against powerful mining interests. (A fight against water privatization  is also happening in the United States.)
In many communities in Chile there is no legislation or weak legislation protecting water rights—and numerous examples of how the mining industry has exploited and polluted rivers and groundwater. In the meantime, reports Agenzia Fides, the Associations of Rural Drinking Water are looking for solutions to their problems in terms of quantity and quality of water.
Last spring in Santiago, César Correa Valenzuela, the Columban Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation (JPIC) coordinator in Chile, helped lead the Carnival to Recuperate Water Rights,according to Independent Catholic News .
“We have been involved in water scarcity issues with environmental groups in different coalitions and doing a lot of networking and lobbying,” he said. “This year, all the social, environmental, grass roots organisations and NGOs came together to organise a demonstration against the government policies that privatised the water, and the plea of recovery of it as common good and Human Right.”
Rose Marie Berger, author of Who Killed Donte Manning? (available at store.sojo.net ), is a Catholic peace activist and a Sojourners senior associate editor.