With banners declaring “water should not be a privilege” hundreds of environmental demonstrators protested this week in Buenos Aires against the privatisation of the basic service, amongst other environmental issues.
Monday's protests, which coincided with World Water Day, took place in front of the National Congress building where a sit-in was held before a march through the centre of the city to the Casa Rosada. Several members of indigenous towns played their traditional instruments as the march advanced.
The protest was summoned by a wide range of social, environmental and political organisations, such as Conciencia Solidaria — an NGO with a focus on education, community and sustainability.
A participant in the protest from the aforementioned group, Mariela Silverstein, told AFP “The situation with water in Argentina is very delicate because for several years the water has been handed over to the corporations. We call them the looting corporations because they come, for example, to blow up our mountains to do open-pit mining.”
Protesters also demonstrated against largescale mining as well as forest fires that devastated thousands of hectares of land in recent months.
Iconic human rights activist Nora Cortiñas, of the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo – Founding Line human rights group, was among those in attendance.
"Argentina is a country that has water and we cannot allow it to be used to spoil pachamama (Mother Earth) for mega-mining and to take away our wealth. Water is not for sale, it is to be defended," she told journalists.
Juan Arislur, a 27-year-old activist from the Red Ecosocialista, agreed that water should not be sold as a commodity, arguing “it has to be understood that water is a fundamental resource for life and no matter what price they put on it, it is priceless.”
While water shortage is an environmental issue in Argentina, it also has a social aspect that is reflected deeply in Buenos Aires' impoverished villas.
In the capital, a city of 2.8 million inhabitants, “one out of every seven inhabitants does not have formal access to drinking water,” said María Eva Koutsovitis, hydraulic engineer and coordinator of the Chair of Community Engineering at the University of Buenos Aires. That equates to 400,000 residents of the capital.
Koutsovitis added that the shortage of water reduces life expectancy and doubles the infant mortality rate.