Montevideo. After an easing of the water crisis on the front line due to rainfall, plans to privatize the drinking water supply are again being criticized. President Luis Lacalle Pou’s government wants to introduce private capital into the management of Uruguay’s water resources.
From May onwards, a long-lasting lack of precipitation brought the crisis in the supply of drinking water to the capital region into public awareness. Voices warning that the Santa Lucía River, which supplies Montevideo’s fresh water, has not been tended for many years and that the silted river bed and riparian zones vulnerable to agrochemicals could trigger a severe supply crisis, prompted no government response (america21 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 in the metropolitan area of the capital could improve the supply. The management of Uruguay’s water resources is to be handed over to private capital.
Social organizations last week applied for an injunction to suspend the international public tender for the Neptuno project. According to the Uruguayan daily La Diaria, this is only the first step towards a lawsuit against the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Health and the state water company Obras Sanitarias del Estado (OSE). The results of 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 the authorities in 2022 “not to renew or continue” the tender.
In their application, 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, the 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 entrusting part of the management of the drinking water supply for human consumption to private companies “means a surrender of sovereignty, since the state will be subject to the fulfillment of obligations by third parties”. . This would already contradict the provisions of the country’s constitution.
The President of the Employees’ Union at the state utility OSE, Federico Kreimerman, stated that “the privatization of drinking water production puts profit before social purpose, contrary to the constitutional mandate, which recognizes access to this resource as a basic human right”. .