Latin America Advisor Featured Q&A: How Should Bolivia Deal with its Water Shortage?

AIN’s Kathryn Ledebur participates in Featured Q&A. Excerpt from the Inter-American Dialogue’s newsletter, the Latin America Advisor for December 12, 2016. For the full version, please see the Inter-American Dialogue’s website.

Q: Bolivia’s government has declared a national emergency amid a drought that has severely limited the country’s water supply, 16 years after the so-called Water Wars in Cochabamba led to widespread conflict and sparked an international debate over privatizing water and sanitation services. The water crisis is expected to extend into 2018. How should Bolivia go about managing its limited resources as it struggles to adapt to what is likely to be the “new normal” with regard to water scarcity? Should Bolivia attempt to privatize water again, or is there another way to manage access and infrastructure? What will the drought mean for its agriculture sector? What will water scarcity mean for the country’s political and civil stability?

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Bolivian Quinoa Questions: Production and Food Security

In January and March 2011, several English-language press outlets ran stories on quinoa production in Bolivia. National Public Radio and the Associated Press reported on quinoa as a development project, hailing its benefits to farmers in the altiplano region of Bolivia.  The New York Times article focused on quinoa’s rising popularity abroad making it less affordable for low income Bolivians. Both AP’s “Quinoa’s Popularity a Boon to Bolivians,”[i] and the Times’Quinoa’s Global Success Creates Quandary at Home” highlight the complex relationship between food security and economic development in Bolivia, although with differing perspectives.

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Ongoing, Unresolved Issues Likely to Perpetuate Tension in Bolivia

A combination of widespread drought, followed by intense flooding in some regions; accusations of commodities speculation; alleged smuggling operations sending large amounts of contraband Bolivian goods to neighboring nations; worldwide food price increases; plus Bolivian government plans to control the prices of certain staple goods has caused strikes, protests and nation-wide sugar shortages in recent weeks. This uncertainty has highlighted growing concern about the rising cost of living for average Bolivians.

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Bolivia’s Gas Nationalization: Opportunities and Challenges (4)

Public Participation, Transparency, and Accountability

Under Bolivia’s 1994 Popular Participation Law, Bolivian citizens are able to participate in decision-making regarding public funds, including oil and gas revenues, at the municipal level.  Under this law, the municipalities use a bottom-up participative planning process to determine the use of public funds.  This is part of Bolivia’s decentralization initiative and efforts to move government decisions closer to the people.  Population groups are divided into Organizaciones Teritoriales de Base (OTBs) at basically a neighborhood level.  The groups then propose projects for spending public funds allotted to their area.  These projects are then grouped into an Annual Operating Plan for each municipality.1

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Bolivia: Legacy of Coca


Bolivia is the third largest producer of coca leaves, following Colombia and Peru. The plant, which has been a part of the Bolivian culture for thousands of years and is sometimes described as hoja milenaria, or leaf of millennia, is viewed by the U.S. as unnecessary and is the focus of eradication in the U.S. War against Drugs. The lives of Bolivian coca growers are mired in poverty: families live in remote areas in rudimentary wooden houses and entire families work the crops. The image presented of the common coca grower as a drug trafficker, or worse, narco-terrorist, is a gross misperception, based in part on a lack of understanding of the traditional and cultural significance of the coca leaf in Bolivia. It is also due to a failure to differentiate between coca and cocaine. The intent of this article is to provide a general overview of the legacy of coca in Bolivia.

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Rethinking Alternative Development in Bolivia

When an opposition movement supported by the coca grower’s political party forced the resignation of Bolivia’s President Sánchez de Lozada in October 2003, it was fueled in part by long-standing resentment against the U.S. war on drugs. Even though an estimated $300 million has been spent by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) since 1982 on alternative development programs in Bolivia, the world’s third-largest producer of coca, growers complain that they have never been offered viable alternatives to growing coca. They identify three principal problems: an uncoordinated strategy that operates outside existing community organizations and local governments; the inflexible conditioning of assistance on eradication; and a large, expensive bureaucracy.1 

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Latin America Advisor Q&A Features Commentary by AIN’s Kathryn Ledebur

The Inter-American Dialogue’s daily publication, the Latin America Advisor, features Kathryn Ledebur’s comments in its Q&A section: “Will Morales Try for a Fourth Term as Bolivia’s President?”

Read her commentary below, or to read the entire publication, visit the Inter-American Dialogue website here .

Q: Despite losing a referendum nearly a year ago that would have allowed him to run for a fourth consecutive term, Bolivian President Evo Morales said last month that he may seek another term anyway. Morales made the statement after his Movement to Socialism party named him as its candidate for the 2019 election. Why is Morales floating the idea even though voters rejected amending the Constitution to allow him another term? What factors will determine whether Morales runs for and wins election to a fourth term? Will Bolivia’s problems, such as a severe drought, social unrest and an economic slowdown, erode Morales’ popularity? Is the opposition strong enough to mount a successful presidential campaign against him?

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Conflicting Agendas: The Politics of Development Aid in Drug-Producing Areas

Development Policy Review, 2005, 23 (2): 183-198
Overseas Development Institute, 2005.
Published by Blackwell Publishing, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA.

When international development policy prioritises goals determined by the
donor’s domestic policy concerns, aid agencies not only fail in their
development objectives but can also generate conflict in the recipient
country. In the Bolivian Chapare, where the United States is driven by the
need to demonstrate success in controlling cocaine production, policies to
eradicate coca leaf have led to programmes with limited development
impact that increase conflict both locally and nationally. In contrast, the
European Union’s successful collaboration with local governments which
began in 1998 provides insights into generating sustainable development
and de-escalating conflict in drug-producing regions worldwide.

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