Bolivia accelerating Oruro, La Paz water projects


By Alex Emery

The Bolivian government stepped up investment in irrigation projects in a key mining region as the country struggles to recover from its worst drought in a quarter century.

President Evo Morales opened the 10mn-boliviano (US$1.4mn) Khota irrigation system in the central Andean Oruro department's Huayllamarca province. Khota, which was financed by Caracas-based lender CAF, will irrigate 147ha of land and benefit 106 families, according to state Radio Patria Nueva.

The government is investing a total of 132mn bolivianos in five reservoirs in Oruro, including Inca Pinta (45mn bolivianos), San Miguel (37mn bolivianos), Villa Apacheta (23mn bolivianos) and Tayaquira (7mn bolivianos), President Morales said.

"Before there was no investment and now there is," Morales said in broadcast comments.

Oruro is home to some of the country's main mining operations including state-run Comibol's Huanuni and Colquiri polymetallic mines and the Vinto tin smelter.

Morales last year declared a national emergency and sacked his top water officials for failing to warn the government about the lack of water supply. State water utility Epsas has restricted service to 12 hours a day in 100 neighborhoods in La Paz, a city of 800,000 inhabitants.

In other water news, Epsas started construction work on a 1.5mn-boliviano sewerage project in La Paz's El Alto district, state news agency ABI reported. The project, which includes the Puchukollo sewerage treatment plant, 1,281m of piping and 22 monitoring tanks in a first stage, will benefit 1,500 residents. The second stage will add 10km of piping, according to Epsas CEO Humberto Claure.

The environment and water ministry is applying for 80mn bolivianos in financing to extend sewerage networks to other parts of El Alto, deputy water minister Julia Collado told ABI.

The eastern Andean region this year suffered the effects of both global warming and the La Niña phenomenon, where cooler ocean temperatures cause drought in the highlands, affecting crops and livestock. Morales is seeking US$500mn in international emergency aid to invest in potable water and irrigation infrastructure.

The government, which completed the US$146mn Misicuni reservoir in March, has invested an additional 980mn-bolivianos in small-scale potable water and irrigation systems over the past decade, according to Patria Nueva.

Chile, meanwhile, presented a six-volume defense in the controversy over the Silala river to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague.

Bolivia, which took a separate dispute over its claim to sovereign access to the Pacific Ocean to the ICJ in 2013, claims the river was rerouted to flow down into Chile through a system of aqueducts and wants its neighbor to pay for the use of the water. Chile argues that the Silala is an international river naturally shared by both countries.

"Bolivia will duly respond to the case presented by Chile, safeguarding the interests and natural resources of the country," Morales said in broadcast comments at the presidential palace in La Paz. "We are struck by the Chilean government's contradictory position by litigating against Bolivia in international courts while admitting to unilaterally taking advantage of all the water from the streams by means of artificial infrastructure."