Petorca, Chile, Mar 22 (EFE).- Zoila Quiroz, 72, fondly remembers when her hometown, Petorca, in central Chile, was home to a mighty river that gave life to the plants and animals that were the livelihood of thousands of farmers.
But barely half a century later, Petorca, a village at the epicenter of Chile’s drought, has drastically changed.
Wells are drying up, crops and livestock are dying, and some 3,000 residents are getting their water from tanker trucks.
The hills surrounding the village are covered by thousands of leafy avocado trees, a symbol of the cruel monopolization of water resources by private companies that have left many families, like Quiroz’s, suffering from chronic water shortages.
“They stole everything from us, they even took away our dignity. There was a time when we had to choose whether to take a shower or wash our clothes. We had no choice but to fight,” Quiroz tells Efe.
Three generations of women in Petorca have been affected by the injustice.
Zoila, her daughter Rosalba, 38, and grand-daughter Pascuala, 12, as well as many other women in the area who have become the leaders of the fight against water scarcity in Chile.
WOMEN TAKE ON BIG FARMING
Chile, with 76% of its territory affected by water shortages, is suffering from the most severe water crisis in the entire western hemisphere, according to Greenpeace.
Experts blame the scarcity of rainfall – 2021 was the fourth driest year ever recorded – but also on the water ownership regime.
Some 80% of water resources in Chile are privately owned, most by large agricultural, mining and energy companies.
In Petorca alone, 30 companies monopolize 60% of the water resources, according to the president of the Petorca Water Cooperative, Magdalena Morgan.
Several of those companies grow avocados, a fruit that requires enormous amounts of water for its cultivation.
“Here only those who pay have water. An avocado is worth more than a person. It is a model of exploitation, of dispossession, that is why this has become a war,” Morgan says.
Women, especially peasants, have been the key to tackling water scarcity because they are the ones who take care of the community while the men go out to work, generally to the mine, according to Morgan.
Marileu Avendaño, spokeswoman for the Movement for Water and Territories, echoed that sentiment.
Although water installations may seem “very masculine,” it has been the women of Petorca who have dug wells, installed pipes and set up organizations to manage water fairly.
“At the beginning it was the older women of the rural community but now they are also younger women with university educations,” she tells Efe.
But with fame and success comes violence. Many of the women who have been exposed in the media have been harrassed and attacked.
“It is imperative to address the level of violence to which these women who are environmental defenders are exposed,” executive director of Amnesty International Chile, Rodrigo Bustos, urged.