Securing the market: Water security and the internal contradictions of Chile’s Water Code

Jessica Budds

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)
30 Downloads (Pure)


Chile has operated a system of private tradable water rights since 1981. In theory, this framework contributes to water security by instituting private property rights to water to enable permanent access, and by using market transactions to facilitate the reallocation of scarce water to ensure optimal distribution. Yet, since 2010, the country has faced critical water scarcity in several regions, arising from a combination of overexploitation and dry weather. The aim of this paper is to analyse the relationship between water markets and water security in Chile. It has two objectives: to examine how the water policy framework has shaped responses to acute water scarcity, based on a case study of the La Ligua river basin during the 2014–15 drought, and to explore how water-society relations have influenced the nature and implications of these responses. The analysis employs a relational approach to water security that attends to the configuration of hydrosocial relations, as opposed to the supply of water. I make three related arguments. First, the framework fostered supply-led responses to drought that were counterproductive to water security. Second, these responses can be attributed to the privatised and individualised hydrosocial relations under the market system, which now present an internal contradiction by threatening to undermine it. Third, supply-led responses were not merely pragmatic solutions to water shortages, but a means to neutralise this internal contradiction so as to stave off the potential destabilisation of the water policy framework.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)165-175
Number of pages11
Early online date4 Oct 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2020


  • Capital accumulation
  • Drought
  • Export agriculture
  • Hydrosocial cycle
  • Political ecology
  • Water markets

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