Wastewater treatment and reuse: A viable answer to shortages in Venezuela?

By Sarai Coscojuela

Caracas, Jul 14 (EFE).- Water shortages are a fact of life for many Venezuelans, who only had access to that essential resource 57.2 hours per week on average in the first half of 2022.

Those shortfalls also are forcing experts to scramble to come up with viable solutions, whether that entails repairs to water distribution systems or the treatment and reuse of wastewater.

While the non-governmental organization Monitor Ciudad says the typical Venezuelan household only has access to running water about a third of the time in any given week, even that estimate is too optimistic for thousands of users who find themselves without service for weeks on end.

Access also is very inequitable in Venezuela, since more affluent people enjoy virtually uninterrupted service.

Douglas Sanchez, a professor of ecology, environment and sustainability at Caracas’ Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB), told Efe that the problem is not a matter of “scarcity” but of resource management and distribution and water treatment infrastructure.

Sanchez, also a sanitation engineering laboratory technician, said wastewater treatment not only could alleviate some of the problems but also is a recommended sustainability practice.

“If we can meet all the requirements in terms of the population’s basic needs, we’ll be on the road to being a sustainable society,” he said. “And part of sustainability is covering basic needs like sanitation.”

Potable water in Venezuela is not only being used for human consumption but also for activities such as toilet-flushing and car-washing, Ernesto Gonzalez, a biologist and professor at Caracas’ Central University of Venezuela, said.

“That’s very costly … because the demand for potable water is so high that if you’re using (that) water for washing, for toilet-flushing … imagine the expenditure (and) how much you need to purify,” he told Efe.

Nevertheless, both academics agree that wastewater treatment is a pricey process due to the different steps involved and because the plants require constant maintenance and qualified personnel to operate the infrastructure.

Venezuela has treatment plants that fit the bill, but they either have not been managed adequately or have been neglected, those experts say.

Investment also is needed in the water service distribution system because the pipes are more than 50 years old and are susceptible to cracks and leaks, Gonzalez says, adding that many pipes also are unable to withstand the pressure that comes with numerous service stops and starts.

Sanchez said for his part that it will be costly to repair existing infrastructure or build it anew because imported parts are very expensive and that a lot of money could have been saved through regular maintenance and gradual investments over time.

Looking ahead, the UCAB professor said part of the solution lies in educating society on the importance of water conservation, noting that ordinary people can even contribute to wastewater treatment on a small scale.

“There are different stages: educating the population, repairing what currently exists, making new investments and (ensuring that) industries comply with the law” in terms of carrying out their own wastewater treatment, Sanchez added.

Venezuela’s leftist government blames the problem on severe economic sanctions imposed by the United States and other foreign countries, saying they hinder its ability to import the materials needed to repair water treatment plants and other equipment. EFE


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