A rural town’s river vanished. Is Chile’s constitution to blame?
The water disappeared. The riverbed vanished.
The riverbed disappeared. The town of Yapeyú disappeared, too.
When that happened in June, some local officials speculated that it was the result of a political conspiracy fueled by a growing anger with urban life in the town. Others speculated that it was the handiwork of a new industrial plant owned by the copper magnate Emilio Gamboa Maciel.
But three months later, a former municipal worker in Peru, who left Yapeyú with her family in 1972, is reconsidering that theory. She says the disappearance of the Yapeyú River has an economic component that is not the result of any political conspiracy.
A native of the Yapeyú Valley, she says the disappearance happened because of changes in how the copper mine’s operations were run:
“There are many companies coming into the area. They use up all that water that is left and they use the rivers to transport their materials to the sea.”
What’s the solution?
The problem, it turns out, is not only the lack of water in the river basin. It’s also the fact that the mine owner didn’t get permission from the government to build the project.
“There were so many problems,” the now 82-year-old woman says. “The Peruvian government did not listen to us. They didn’t listen to the people. The problem is they didn’t respect the laws or laws of nature.”
So she took matters into her own hands. She and her sister began running a little business to fill up their storage tank, and later, to sell bottled water to other residents of the valley.
“It was a small business, just one that lasted a few years,” she says. But it made a difference. The community started to fill up her little refrigerator and the little house where she lived. And the town of Yapeyú survived.
And one more thing: When the mine ran out of water, which it did soon after the Gamboa Maciel mining company bought it in the early 2000s, the community received help from the government of Bolivia to buy