Fifty social and environmental organisations are promoting a campaign for the care of and access to water as a human right. They question the activities that pollute it and propose the democratisation of the commons.

Lake Colhue Huapi covered 53,000 hectares in Sarmiento (Chubut). In the 1990s, the lake began to recede as a result of the activities of large ranches and oil companies. In the 2000s it dried up completely. A few kilometres away is Lake Musters, which is experiencing a historic low water level and is in danger of following in the footsteps of Colhue Huapi. 3,000 kilometres away, in Salta, the Wichí communities are demanding water wells so that they do not have to drink from polluted puddles, a precursor to disease and death. The “Plurinational Campaign in Defence of Water for Life” is the name of the initiative promoted by dozens of social organisations and assemblies, which stress the human right to water, denounce extractivism and propose the democratisation of access to common goods.

“Water is worth more than gold” was born in 2002 in Chubut, when the Esquel struggle against mega-mining began. The phrase has become a banner of struggle in Argentina and Latin America. At the other extreme, ideologically and geographically, in 2020 it was news that water began to be traded on the New York speculation exchange.

“Water is life. All living things depend on it. The lack of drinking water for so many people in this country is a socio-ecological debt that needs to be settled immediately”, highlights the founding document of the Plurinational Campaign in Defence of Water for Life, a space in which more than fifty organisations, socio-environmental assemblies, food sovereignty chairs and diverse collectives (from artistic to scientific) participate.

The campaign has several axes. It began with dissemination (via social networks at and with a series of virtual conversations (“Access to land and water, key to demographic reconfiguration”, “Regulations in defence of water”, “Water for the foreign debt or for life”, were some of the topics). “Water is a common good and a right. We want to protect it, take care of it; avoid indiscriminate use, waste and pollution. We have to advance towards a collective conscience of care and accompany it with legislation that defines it as a vital element to preserve for the continuity of life”, remarked the Asamblea Jáchal No Se Toca, the Servicio de Paz y Justicia, the Madres de Ituzaingó Anexo, the NGO Conciencia Solidaria, the Multisectorial Paren de Fumigarnos (Santa Fe), the Espacio Intercuencas, the Coordinadora Basta es Basta por una Vida sin Agrotóxicos, the Cátedra Libre de Soberanía Alimentaria de Nutrición (UBA) and the Federación de Profesionales de la Salud (Fesprosa), among other organisations.

On Friday 7 January, Mapuche communities together with self-organised neighbours blocked Route 7 (Autovía Norte) in the plateau of the capital of Neuquén to demand water. “In an area that is being devastated by oil companies and fracking, which use millions of litres of water daily for their exploitations, the people lack water for consumption, for irrigation and for life in general. There are no more excuses, that’s why we are fed up with this protest”, explained the Mapuche Confederation of Neuquén.

The defence of water almost unifies the struggles against extractivism and its consequences: mega-mining, forestry, agribusiness, dams, oil, lithium, wetlands, nuclear energy, downstream, urban extractivism and megacities.

Mariano Sánchez Toranzo is one of the Campaign’s spokespersons. He stresses that one of the objectives is to deepen democracy. “It is essential to move away from delegative democracy, which does not solve the problems of either the people or the territories. It is necessary to move towards a more participatory democracy. We are committed to all types of consultation and popular initiative, an instrument of direct democracy that we could use today but which the sectors in power do not want us to use”, affirms Sánchez Toranzo.

In addition to Esquel in 2003, there were other popular votes against extractivism: in 1996, the people of Misiones said no to the Corpus hydroelectric dam (between Argentina and Paraguay). In 2012, the people of Loncopué (Neuquén) voted and 82 percent rejected a mining project promoted by the provincial government and a Chinese company. In 2014, again in Misiones, 120,000 people called themselves to vote and 96 per cent said “no” to the Garabí dam (between Argentina and Brazil).

There have been numerous attempts at local votes against extractivism and for self-determination. Perhaps the two best known are the Cordoba town of Malvinas Argentinas (against the installation of the Monsanto company) and Andalgalá (in defence of water and against mega-mining). In both cases, provincial and national governments opposed the democratic act.

The Plurinational Campaign in Defence of Water is working on the popular construction of a bill to protect water, prohibit activities that pollute it and provide for the public management of water. They are looking for 500,000 signatures. “We understand that it is a bottom-up construction process, and that it can take on the imprint that the women’s movement had and has, a green tide that politicians cannot ignore,” Sánchez Toranzo explains. In July 2010, the United Nations (UN) explicitly recognised (in its General Assembly) “the human right to water”. It reaffirmed that clean water is essential for the realisation of all human rights.