Bogotá's fight for public water
Maria Teresa Ronderos
1st March, 2004
How the Colombian capital Bogotá defied the World Bank and the multinationals, refused to privatise and turned its water services into the best in the country
Residents of the more low-lying areas of the Colombian capital Bogotá used to perform a rather strange ritual before going to work. They would dress in old, ragged clothes and rubber boots and wade through the flooded and muddy streets of their neighbourhoods until they reached friends’ homes on dry land, where they would change into their suits and dresses for work.
The cause of this rush-hour costume change was a scarcity of drainage sewers. What few sewers existed often backed up because their outflow pipes were below the level of the Bogotá River, into which the pipes emptied, and the streets would be flooded with sewage.
Bogotá is a fast-growing city of 7 million people that is spread across a broad plateau, the Sabana de Bogotá, 2,600 metres above sea level in the Andes. High forest-green mountains frame the Sabana. The city gets most of its water from tropical highlands about 4,000 meters above sea level, which act as a natural sponge – sucking moisture out of the clouds and mists. The water drains to rivers and lakes, from where it is channelled down into the city.
Each year, the city’s population grows by about 180,000. The new residents...
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