“Even the Rain”: Water Privatization in Bolivia
By Heymi Bahar
“Even the Rain” is a recent movie by Iciar Bollain, and a story of a producer and a director that go to Bolivia with a cast and crew to shoot a film about Christopher Columbus and find themselves caught up in some of the same issues and struggles present in Columbus’s time. This Spanish film is set in 2000, when the Bolivian government sold its water rights to a private company–thus making it illegal for poor people to collect the rainwater upon which they depended. After the privatization the price of water increased an average of 35% to about $20 a month where the average wage is $70.
“Even the Rain” makes comparison between the production’s treatment of its extras and Columbus’s exploitation of the Indians. This comparison is mainly based on Daniel, a Bolivian man of indigenous descent, to play the leader of an Indian insurrection. But at the same time Daniel is one of the leaders of the water-rights protest.
But what happened after the privatization of the water utility in Bolivia? In January 2005, the privatization was terminated. Following this, Aguas de Illimani (the privatized utility) was replaced by the public utility Empresa Pública Social de Agua y Saneamiento (EPSAS). However, instead of high prices, other new problems came to the fore. In 2008, public opinion turned against EPSAS due to water shortages, accounting mistakes, tariff increases and inadequate disaster preparedness. Perhaps the debate’s focus is flawed. It’s not about privatization as the new colonialism and it’s almost certainly not about pinning hopes on public utilities as a balanced approach. Maybe good regulation is the answer to Bolivia’s water issues.