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Water scarcity and its impacts on local labor markets. Studying heterogenous effects on women and indigenous people in Chile (2022-2023)

Proyecto BID

Climate change is one of the most urgent current problems today, involving sociocultural and institutional changes (Barnes & Dove, 2015). The vulnerability to climate change in local communities is increasing around the world and is projected to increase further in coming decades. This vulnerability is also related to the reproduction and increase of several inequalities (IPCC, 2014). Excluded communities are the ones who experience its impacts the most, suffering the increase in temperatures, the loss of biodiversity and the water scarcity. This is because these vulnerable groups are also largely excluded from the decision-making processes that affect their territories. Within these groups, women and indigenous peoples have been highlighted in recent literature for being the most affected by climate change, especially in rural contexts (Brugnach et al. 2017).

In the case of women, recent research on climate change has shown severe effects on employment, income, and increased vulnerability, which today are pushing large population groups to out-migrate from places extensively affected by droughts and other climate-related changes. These effects become particularly relevant when we look at the condition of historical vulnerability that rural and indigenous women have had in Latin America and in the Chilean case specifically (Denton, 2002; Pearse, 2017).

In the case of indigenous peoples, the colonization process pushed a large part of the population to lands that are highly vulnerable to changes caused by climate change, mainly due to the concentration of cultivable land in non-indigenous hands. In predominantly agricultural economies, phenomena such as desertification, water scarcity and loss of biodiversity have a strong impact on indigenous economies, increasing their levels of vulnerability and pushing these populations to the urban margins (Tsosie, 2007; Sobrevila, 2008).

In the case of Chile, one of the most relevant problems of climate change today is water scarcity and its devastating effects on the population, especially rural inhabitants. During the last decade, Chile has faced one of the longest and most extensive droughts in its history, which has impacted the replenishment of aquifers, basins and general water availability (Cr2, 2015). This prolonged drought coincides with a governance system that conceives water as a commodity, with a high concentration of water rights in a few hands and where irrigation associated with agriculture and forestry accounts for 73% of consumptive water use, resulting in a strong linkage between agro-industrial exploitation and water scarcity.

The proposed research seeks to contribute to the literature on the relationship between climate change and inequality, in three ways. First, the concept of water scarcity, and not drought, is the focus of the analysis. Drought refers to the phenomenon of lack of precipitation, while the concept of water scarcity incorporates human, social, and political variables that directly affect the availability of water, and therefore can provide insights on multidimensional policy responses. Research on water scarcity is scant at international level, and this would be the first study to explore this issue in Chile. Second, we focus on differential impacts on women and indigenous people, issues barely addressed in recent literature, especially for the Chilean case. Third, we adopt a mixed methods research design, combining difference in difference estimates with qualitative data collection and analysis for a deeper understanding of the underlying mechanisms that underpin the relationship between water scarcity and labor market outcomes.

Investigadores Participantes

PhD en Sociología, Lateinamerika–Institut, Freie Universität Berlin

PhD en Economía, Universidad de Sussex

Istock 913969536


Centro de Economía y Políticas Sociales, U. Mayor

José Toribio Medina 38, Santiago

+56 22518 9709|ceas@umayor.cl