The value of water

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For years we have made clear that, to us, water is life and not merchandise. Last month, during “Blue October,” we tried to promote the importance of human rights and the constitutional right to water. All this seems very logical. However, reality shows us every day that for some, water, without which we cannot live, is a “resource” for business and profit.
 
Water is theoretically public property in Chile, but one only need visit the National Water Authority’s website to learn that, to the Chilean state, it is a consumer good and its ownership is backed by the constitution.  Although the United Nations ruled water is a human right in 2010, this is clearly far from being tangible for millions of our fellow human beings. And if it’s not a right for our own people, what can be expected from others?  Back in 2004, Uruguay led Latin America by example when it included the right to water in its constitution through a referendum –it was later followed by Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and México. Apparently, Chile is years behind this advancement.
 
In Blue October we also displayed the importance of our water and rivers as valuable landscape and an asset for recreation, meditating and urbanism, using the Coyhaique River as an example.
 
On Thursday, November 1, we enjoyed beautiful kayaking activities in the Simpson River, with races and rafts, attended by several participants from foreign countries and other parts of Chile. It is worth noting–along with the excellent organization of local kayakers–the participation of the Escuela Escualos de Cochrane, whose “classroom” is the Baker River (among others), which they recently kayaked all the way to the Tortel River.
 
Regarding this valuable and exemplary educational and athletic initiative from Mr. and Mrs. Haro, we recommend this excellent Weston Boyles documentary “Escualos de Cochrane”, which is being showcased in the United States and Europe.
 

LOS ESCUALOS: Young Chilean Kayakers of Patagonia (Trailer) from Weston Boyles / Rios to Rivers 

The Baker has a high-difficulty, world-class stretch that has been kayaked by experts only a few times. The Pascua and Cuervo rivers are even harder and therefore a bona fide topnotch challenge. Not too long ago, the Futaleufú River enjoyed that same prestige and today it is an attraction for foreign athletes and water sports companies.  
 
If two decades ago there were no traces of a kayak to be found in Aysén, and today we have dozens of experts and even schools that teach this sport, it is not too far-fetched to think that, in the not-too-distant future, several Aysén rivers –I don’t doubt the Baker will be among them– will be global attractions, with kayaking and rafting becoming relevant sports in the region. And who knows if, in a few years, we get to see world-class kayakers hailing from Aysén, and even in the Olympics!
 
This entire prologue aims to stress, once more, that rivers are not just merchandise to be sold by and to foreign electric power utilities, as is the case in the Chilean Patagonia. Along with providing countless “eco-systemic services”, these rivers also offer many other benefits, even commercial ones, which do not require de destruction of the river, its freedom and its life. 
 
Recreation and tourism are among its best-known uses and, apparently, we are just beginning to realize they offer tremendous potential for sports and sports-oriented tourism. How many more such similar discoveries await us?
 
When it comes to markets, prices and monetary value, it is worth remembering economist F. Salamanca pegged the annual losses for the region’s tourism from the HidroAysén hydroelectric megaproject at $23 billion, while Universidad de Concepción economist R. Ponce calculated the loss of only two of these locations to the project would reach $210 million. 
 
Transmission lines imply a loss in regional landscape near $2.9 billion, and the loss of environmental heritage would be close to $3.8 billion, according to Price.  Additionally, losses for native forests and recreational fishing would total $1.9 million and $3 million, respectively, according to Salamanca. Real estate depreciation would range between $1.4 billion and $5.8 billion, according to Groth. We hope to offer more information on this information, which is still developing, in the near future.   
 
The bottom line is that the economic contributions of both HidroAysén and Energía Austrial pale in comparison to these figures, which go from $5,414 billion to as high as $10,908 billion in losses these hydroelectric projects would inflict on other sectors of the economy. Losses that, evidently, cannot possibly be compensated. 
 
If there is no possible economic compensation, there is even less of one for the human and constitutional rights that are lost, in addition to the health, recreation, sports and many other "services" given to us by quality water and free, living rivers.
 
 
Photo courtesy of Codeff Aysen
 

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