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The Transboundary Dispute Over the Waters of the Silal/Siloli (Bolivia v. Chile)

IWRA World Water Congress 2017 - Cancun Mexico
4. Water policy and governance
Author(s): Christopher Rossi
Christopher Rossi

Keyword(s): transboundary fresh water law, international watercourse, International Law, riparian law, equitable use


Abstract:  The waters of the Silala/Siloli, located in the hyper-arid Atacama Desert dividing Bolivia and Chile, originate in Bolivia, flow for a mere four kilometers before entering Chile, flow for four more kilometers before commingling with the San Pedro tributary and debouch into the Pacific Ocean.  And yet this tiny basin, located in one of the most remote and inhospitable places on earth, forms what the U.N. calls one of the most hydropolitically vulnerable basins in the world.  Bolivia claims a Chilean concessionaire artificially diverted the waters in 1908, and that Chile now illegally draws from the waters long after Bolivia terminated the concession agreement.  Chile claims the waters form a natural transboundary watercourse that would flow as a servitude into Chile even if the waters never had been augmented or directed by the canals.    Questions of law and fact blur the legal status of these waters, their possible relationship to a transboundary aquifer, and the customary application of equitable and reasonable use standards regarding a river, if indeed the Silala/Sioli is a river.  As the case heads toward The Hague for consideration by the International Court of Justice, this Article concentrates on the evolving relationship between these historically troubled riparians, borrowing from the sociological framework analysis of Erving Goffman to investigate how international dispute settlement mechanisms may indeed be challenged by ceremonial forms of dramaturgy that play more to domestic audiences than pacific settlement outcomes.  In the Anthropocene age, acute concerns about fresh water and non-navigable watercourses now have the potential to erupt into major conflicts between states.  These conflicts draw critical attention to the evolving relationship between groundwater and surface water regimes, certainly in the great hydrographic basins of the world, and, as this case details, in one of the smallest and most remote 

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