Drinking Water Supply in the Region of Antofagasta (Chile): A Challenge between Past, Present and Future

Barbara Ruffino, Giuseppe Campo, Dafne Crutchik, Arturo Reyes, Mariachiara Zanetti

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Since the mid-nineteen century, when the first mining companies were established in the region of Antofagasta to extract saltpeter, mining managers and civil authorities have always had to face a number of problems to secure a water supply sufficient for the development of industrial activities and society. The unique features of the region, namely the scarcity of rainfall, the high concentration of arsenic in freshwaters and the increasing pressure of the mining sector, have made the supply of drinking water for local communities a challenge. In the 1950s, the town of Antofagasta experienced a serious drinking water crisis. The 300 km long aqueduct starting from the Toconce catchment, opened in 1958, temporarily ended this shortage of drinking water but created an even more dramatic problem. The concentration of arsenic in the water consumed by the population had grown by approx. ten times, reaching the value of 0.860 mg/L and seriously affecting people’s health. The water treatment plants (WTPs) which were installed starting from the 1970s in the region (namely the Old and New Salar del Carmen in Antofagasta and Cerro Topater in Calama, plus the two recent desalination plants in Antofagasta and Tocopilla), have ensured, since 2014, that the drinking water coverage in the urban areas was practically universal (>99.9%). However, the rural areas have continued to experience significant shortcomings regarding their capacity to ensure the quality and continuity of the water supply service in the long run. Presently, approx. 42% of the rural population of the region of Antofagasta does not have a formal supply of drinking water. The recent amendments to the Chilean Water Code (March 2022) and the interventions carried out in the framework of the Agua Potable Rural (APR) program were intended to reduce the socio-ecological inequalities due to the lack of drinking water in the semi-concentrated and isolated rural population.

Original languageEnglish
Article number14406
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 2022
Externally publishedYes


  • Agua Potable Rural program
  • Chilean Water Code
  • SDG6: clean water and sanitation
  • arsenic contamination
  • climate change
  • environmental sanitary engineering
  • mining
  • water scarcity
  • water treatment plant


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