Business & Economy

Life without running water: Venezuela’s new normal

By Hector Pereira

Caracas, Jun 3 (efe-epa).- “This is my job, hauling water,” a jaded Alexander Quintero said while filling up multiple containers at a creek located at the foot of a shantytown on the Venezuelan capital’s east side.

Like him, millions of people in this South American country have lived without running water in their homes for so long that they can’t even remember the last time they had a shower.

The lack of potable water indeed is so commonplace that leftist President Nicolas Maduro in May hailed his administration’s acquisition from China of 252 water trucks, which are to be used to distribute that vital liquid to communities nationwide pending a definitive solution.

And with no apparent short-term fix for the dry taps, an especially acute problem during the current coronavirus pandemic, the only option proposed for addressing the current lack of water supplies is to purchase an additional 1,000 water trucks over the next few months.

Meanwhile, ordinary Venezuelans are having to manage their feelings of both indignation and resignation while finding ways to scrounge up a few liters of that precious resource.

“You know how I spend my time every day? Carrying water every day, leaving my house every day to cope with (the lack of) water, food, the shortages that we’re experiencing,” Yeny Acosta told Efe while taking part in a demonstration in eastern Caracas.

The capital resident had gone without running water at her home for at least 45 days when she decided to take to the streets. Furious over the lack of that essential service, she accuses the government of “social control” and says people are being subjected to derision and humiliation.

“There will be more dead of scabies, of hunger, than of the coronavirus,” Acosta said during the protest. She and the other demonstrators also reject the government’s use of water trucks or, worse still, what she said is the possibility of their having to pay up to $100, equivalent to 30 minimum salaries, for that vital commodity.

Quintero, meanwhile, said after filling up his water containers in the local creek that he has been coping with a lack of electricity and domestic gas at his home in eastern Caracas but that nothing has affected him as much as the current water shortage.

This father of two young children said no water has flowed through the pipes at his home thus far in 2020 and that he has been forced to fill up as many containers as he can each day so his family – including a 78-year-old grandmother – can “half-clean themselves.”

Another frequent visitor to that same creek, Sara Berroeta, said the water there is not fit for cooking or drinking and complained that the water trucks sent by the government don’t make their way high up enough Petare’s hillside slums to reach her residence.

“There are people who have itchy skin; kids are getting scabies,” she said, referring to a disease linked to a shortage of safe water for drinking and personal hygiene.

One Caracas community, meanwhile, is using abandoned pipes from an unfinished government tunnel project and using them to transport water from a spring to their sinks, showers and toilets.

Geisa Fernandez, a 25-year-old accountant, said the initiative has been so successful that some people from adjacent neighborhoods have tried to sabotage the pipe system they installed in 2018.

But she said she and the other members of the community are not intimidated. After a recent act of vandalism a score of men and women took steps to protect the pipes, having to get caked with mud in the process.

Although only a few houses are receiving running water through their taps, those homes serve as distributors for hundreds of families who now can fill up their containers without embarking on a kilometers-long trek.

Last July, in announcing a collaboration agreement with the Venezuelan government aimed at improving access to safe drinking water, Unicef said it would “work on expanding the supply of safe drinking water through systems repair and extension, water-trucking and other alternative sources, strengthening of priority sanitation systems and providing technical assistance and cooperation in water quality monitoring.”

Venezuela’s water problems are related to its years-long economic crisis, which Maduro blames on the severe sanctions the United States has imposed on the nation and its lifeblood oil industry.

Washington and its allies – who are seeking regime change – say the problems are a result of Maduro’s socialist economic policies. EFE-EPA

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