Chile denied on Monday that it will export fresh drinking water to Qatar after a recent report about shipments to the oil-rich but water-poor Persian Gulf country caused a public backlash.
The Gulf Times newspaper of Qatar cited Chilean Ambassador Jean Paul Tarud over the weekend as saying that "Chile has some of the largest fresh water export capabilities in the world."
The report caused a public outcry in Chilean social media after Tarud reportedly confirmed that a trial project to export fresh drinking water to Qatar had started.
But Chile's foreign ministry ruled out any such project, saying media reports had confused the intention of a private company in Qatar with a plan by Chile's government.
"There's no initiative from the government or our embassy" in the United Arab Emirates, the ministry said in a statement Monday. "Ambassador Tarud denies making the claims attributed to him on the subject and even more so, making any offerings involving the Chilean government."
The world's driest desert is located in Chile's north and the country has been suffering from drought in several regions. Environmental groups have staged protests in recent months arguing that Chile's water scarcity is caused by government policies that exploit natural resources.
Chile's water code was enacted during the 1973-90 dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet and gave the state authority to grant usage rights for all the Andean country's water.
Environmentalists also worry about thinning glaciers in Chile's south where the water would come from.
Speaking to reporters in the desert town of Arica, Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said the plan to export water to Qatar is a private enterprise.
"It's a small company that has offered selling water from melting glaciers to different places. We're talking about water that falls to the sea if not used. Its water that is usually sold bottled," Moreno said.
"The only difference from other initiatives that you know of in Chile and elsewhere ... is that they're selling water from here in bulk and it is bottled there," he said.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao