When the state fails to do so, who is in charge of the water management?

When a poor state is controlled by corrupt and inefficient governments, public services deteriorate and citizens suffer. Historically, Bolivia’s governments never took an interest in water management, that is the reason it is not a state monopoly.

Many Bolivians, tired of waiting for a state intervention that would never take shape, decided to organize themselves to manage their own water systems. Decades ago Santa Cruz’s neighbors, joined by Cochabamba’s poorest neighbors, gathered in assemblies and started creating their own organizations to obtain and distribute water in their neighborhoods. These organizations set a monthly membership fee and establish community work targets, such as digging holes, installing water pipelines or transporting the materials needed for water system installation.

Santa Cruz’s cooperatives and Cochabamba’s water committees are two alternative models to public-state and private management, two examples of citizen organization to address the lack of state intervention. But, do this systems actually work?

In Bolivia’s Everyday Water War we explore some of these social experiences, their sustainability and their reach. Guided by a very special route map designed by our artist Francesca Canzi, we are going to visit three places that exemplify the three water management systems that exist in Bolivia, Cochambamba’s public company and the people’s committees at the south of the city, several cooperatives located in Santa Cruz de la Sierra and we are also going to discover how indigenous communities organize themselves in La Paz department.

Evo Morales’ Third Term

In 2000 the Water War marks the beginning of the process of change that led Evo Morales to become Bolivia’s first indigenous president.

Morales began his political career as the coca leaf trade union leader. In 1997 he gained a seat in congress. In the 2002 elections, first after Cochabamba’s riots, he came second in the presidential race, only to become president three years later.

In October 2014 he was re-elected with an absolute majority. Now, the Aymara-descent indigenous leader is facing three main challenges on his third term: making Bolivia Latin America’s energy center, updating the health care system and ensuring that drinking water and sanitation is no longer a problem for most of his fellow citizens.

Since his 2005 victory, Morales’ government supported the creation of a Water Ministry, which is now also in charge of the Ministry of the Environment. Perhaps, Morales’ greatest achievement from an international perspective/at the international level has been his strong support for the human right to water in the UN General Assembly.

In Bolivia there are still 2 million people that do not have access to drinking water at home. More than 4 million live without adequate sanitation.