In 1999, a broad coalition of civil society actors protested against price increases and community water system expropriation following the privatization of water services in the city of Cochabamba. A system of co-management was developed in 2004.
Problems and Purpose
Bolivia is marked by high inequalities in access to water between and within urban and rural areas. In Cochabamba, a city inhabited by approximately 470.000 people, only 55% of them are covered by the water drinking system. The poorest sectors of the population, situated in the southern zone of the city, are the most deprived. In 1999, as a condition for debt relief, the Municipal Water Sanitation Services of Cochabamba (SEMAPA) was auctioned to the Aguas del Tunari consortium. Huge price increases and community water system expropriation followed and generated a social struggle against privatization with citizens demanding price reductions and the co-management of water services.
Background History and Context
The social movement, commonly referred to as the “Water War”, was led by the Coordinadora de Defensa del Agua y de la Vida (Coalition for the Defense of Water and Life). The coalition brought together a large network of local actors such as irrigation farmers, periurban water community systems, the urban working class, coca harvester unions etc. In 1999 and 2000, two cycles of massive protests and blockades paralyzed the city of Cochabamba for weeks at a time. These clashes between “water warriors” (guerrilleros del agua) and police forces culminated in the declaration of a national state of siege on April 8 of 2000. The Bolivian government cancelled the privatization contract the next day. The Coordinadoracalled for a reform of the Municipal Water Sanitation Services of Cochabamba (SEMAPA). The Coordinadora asked for more social and popular participation, transparency and social control. In this context, an inter-institutional Water Council (Consejo Interinstitucional del Agua) was created in Cochabamba. This forum brought together government representatives, the private sector, social organizations, academic institutions and municipalities with a view to creating a consensus in the formulation of new water legislation in Bolivia.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
Water is currently co-managed by community committees, the Municipal Water Sanitation Services of Cochabamba (SEMAPA), and international institutions.
The expansion plan of water services is funded by international institutions and public funds from the municipality and the prefecture. The Inter-American Development Bank funded eight million dollars for the implementation of the extension plan of water services in districts 6, 7, 8 and 14 in the southern zone, managed by SEMAPA. JICA, the Japan International Cooperation Agency, funded some districts in the southern zone, also managed by SEMAPA. Finally, the European Union funded four million dollars for a project named PASAAS (Programa de Apoyo Sectorial en el Abastecimiento del Agua y Saneamiento) for the improvement of water networks owned and managed by ASICA-SUR. However, the international credits, donations and public funds are still insufficient to carry out the project. That is why social organizations are also involved in the funding. SEMAPA is in charge of the construction and the administration of infrastructure equipment but leaves social organizations to finance, build and manage networks of distribution to each home.
Methods and Tools Used
The co-management system as a whole is an example of collaborative governance with roots in various forms of participatory resource management such as Integrated Water Resource Management, Ecosystem-Based Management. Community committees work alongside the Municipal Water Sanitation Services of Cochabamba (SEMAPA) to manage the water resources while public hearings provide another channel of citizen voice and agency.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Cochabamba has a tradition of water committee involvement. Since the 1990s, neighborhood committees came together, creating their own water distribution network and perforating their own wells. These committees are particularly active in the southern zone of Cochabamba. The Water War gave the committees the opportunity to join together and to expand their network. For this reason, in 2004, a new social organization, ASICA-SUR (Asociación de Sistemas Comunitarios de Agua del Sur), emerged to lead the co-management of water resources in the southern zone of Cochabamba. Working alongside the municipal institution SEMAPA, community committees are the main channel of citizen participation. This instrument allows people and social organization to control the actions of the state administration, with a view to strengthening civil society and improving institutional capacity and delivery of public services. As well, public hearings are held by SEMAPA whose Board of Directors is composed of three citizen directors elected by the inhabitants of Cochabamba.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The Water War and the subsequent co-management of water services by the public sector and civil society have led to some positive outcome. First of all, drinking water coverage has improved in Cochabamba in recent years. Second, this experience proves the efficiency of a new model of development led by a social organization working with public authorities and gives a solid alternative to the hegemonic management style exercised by public and/or private actors. This experience had a considerable impact at the national level with the enactment of the New Constitution in February 2009. The Constitution recognizes the delivery of basic services, along with participation and social control as fundamental rights.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Despite its apparent success in increasing citizen participation, the system of co-management is not perfect. Inefficiency in the delivery of SEMAPA still persists. Since the company was returned to public hands after the Water War of 2000, two general managers have been dismissed for acts of corruption. Due to these problems, the Inter-American Development Bank cancelled the payments of a loan that was to be dedicated to modernizing the company.
Public sector reforms are still considered limited by militants of the Coordinadora. In accordance with the principles of participatory process, social organizations proposed a majority of elected citizens on the Board of Directors. This proposition was never approved and was blocked by the local government controlled by the New Republican Force, a party hostile to the social movement and the Coordinadora.
Finally, Bolivia still depends upon foreign financial assistance and credits for its water and sanitation. This situation prevents any radical reform in the water sector. A large majority of international institutions still prefer the public-private partnership to the public-communitarian one, as demonstrated by the Inter-American Development Bank’s interest in private-sector participation.
Integrated Water Resource Management
 Rocio Bustamante Zenteno, “Bolivia. The Water War to Resist Privatisation of Water in Cochabamba” (Global Water Partnership), accessed September 25, 2016, https://www.gwp.org/en/learn/KNOWLEDGE_RESOURCES/Case_Studies/Americas--...
 Andrew Nickson and Claudia Vargas, “The Limitations of Water Regulation: The Failure of the Cochabamba Concession in Bolivia,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 21, no. 1 (January 1, 2002): 99–120, doi:10.1111/1470-9856.00034.
 Philipp Terhorst, Marcela Olivera, and Alexander Dwinell, “Social Movements, Left Governments, and the Limits of Water Sector Reform in Latin America’s Left Turn,” Latin American Perspectives 40, no. 4 (July 1, 2013): 55–69, doi:10.1177/0094582X13484294.
 Bustamante Zenteno, “Bolivia. The Water War to Resist Privatisation of Water in Cochabamba.”
 Amonah Achi and Rebecca Kirchheimer, “Innovar Para Alcanzar El Derecho Humano Al Agua de La Zona Sur de Cochabamba La Experiencia de Apoyo a Los Comités de Agua Potable de La Fundación Pro Hábitat,” in Apoyo a La Gestión de Comités de Agua Potable, ed. Franz Quiroz, Nicolás Faysse, and Raúl Ampuero, Centro AGUA-UMSS (Cochabamba, 2006).
 Achi and Kirchheimer, “Innovar Para Alcanzar El Derecho Humano Al Agua de La Zona Sur de Cochabamba La Experiencia de Apoyo a Los Comités de Agua Potable de La Fundación Pro Hábitat.”
 Zibechi, “Cochabamba: De La Guerra a La Gestión Del Agua.”
 “PLAN DE DESARROLLO QUINQUENAL (2012 – 2016)” (SEMAPA, 2011).
 Susan Spronk, “After the Water Wars in Bolivia: The Struggle for a ‘Social-Public’ Alternative,” Upside Down World, 2008, http://upsidedownworld.org/main/bolivia-archives-31/1255-after-the-water...
 Luís Sanchez Gomez and Philipp Terhorst, “Cochabamba, Bolivia: Public-Collective Partnership after the Water War,” in RECLAIMING PUBLIC WATER ACHIEVEMENTS, STRUGGLES AND VISIONS FROM AROUND THE WORLD, TNI, 2007.
 Terhorst, Olivera, and Dwinell, “Social Movements, Left Governments, and the Limits of Water Sector Reform in Latin America’s Left Turn.”
Lead image: Global Research https://goo.gl/k11iER