After the water crisis eased due to rainfall, plans to privatize the supply of drinking water are once again being criticized. The government of President Luis Lacalle Pou wants to introduce private capital into the management of Uruguay’s water resources.
From May onwards, a long-term lack of rainfall brought the crisis in the supply of drinking water to the capital region to public attention. Warnings that the Santa Lucía River, which supplies Montevideo’s fresh water, has not been maintained for many years and that the silted riverbed and peripheral areas unprotected from agrochemicals could trigger a serious supply crisis, prompted no response from the government ( Amerika21 reported ) .
The controversial project, called Neptuno, which the government is presenting in response to the water crisis it has been suffering, involves the construction of a new pumping station on the Río de la Plata. A water treatment plant and an 85 kilometer long supply line to the capital’s metropolitan area could improve supply. The management of Uruguayan water resources should be handed over to private capital.
Last week, social organizations applied for an injunction to suspend the award of the international public tender for the Neptuno project. According to the Uruguayan daily La Diaria, this is just the first step towards a lawsuit against the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Health and the state water utility Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE). The results of any future main proceedings must remain enforceable and must not be rendered ineffective by a fait accompli. The initiators pointed out that the National Institution for Human Rights had already recommended to the authorities in 2022 “not to renew or continue” the tender.
In their motion, the National Commission for the Defense of Water and Life (Comisión Nacional en Defensa del Agua y la Vida) and the Tucu Tucu Collective are calling for a moratorium until “the project complies with the provisions of the Constitution, according to which the public utility service is exclusively and directly must be provided by the state”. Planning of water resources must be “in accordance with international and national standards of the human right to water and an environmental impact and spatial planning study with real participation” of the responsible municipal institutions of the catchment area. Finally, science must assess the ecological sustainability and the quality of the Río de la Plata confirm drinking water to be supplied.
In the political public sphere, the opposition Frente Amplio as well as trade unions emphasize that leaving part of the management of the supply of drinking water for human consumption in the hands of private companies “means a renunciation of sovereignty, since the state will be subject to the fulfillment of obligations by third parties” . This would already contradict the requirements of the country’s constitution.
The president of the union representation of employees at the state utility OSE, Federico Kreimerman, explained that “the privatization of drinking water production puts profit above social purpose, which contradicts the constitutional mandate, which considers access to this resource as a fundamental human right.” .