Residents of Venezuela’s capital, Caracas, had no access to drinking water this past weekend, allegedly due to a “maintenance” project aimed at keeping water levels high through the annual drought season. The capital’s woes have shed a spotlight on what is becoming a nationwide crisis fueling widespread unrest in the nation’s more remote states.
Spanish newswire service EFE reported that an estimated three million people went without drinking water this weekend in Caracas, allegedly as a result of “maintenance” work done by the state-run utility Hidrocapital on the nation’s pipelines. Hidrocapital cut the water supply to the capital, according to Venezuelan government television, as part of “actions promoted by the Bolivarian government to guarantee the potable water supply of the population, in response to the current drought.” The government alleged that hospitals and health centers were exempt from having their water supplies cut, and the water supply should return by the end of Sunday to all districts of the city.
EFE notes, however, that this incident is not the first of its kind in Caracas. Water Minister Ernesto Paiva warned earlier this month that the dams used to provide electricity to Caracas were mostly empty, threatening to leave the city without both water and electricity. Periodical suspensions of running water have been occuring all month.
Caracas’ water supply has fallen 75 percent, confirms Venezuelan newspaper El Universal, and until now, the capital has been shielded from the worst of the drought.
In far west Mérida state, journalists report a “severe rationing” of water in addition to “unannounced electricity cuts.” One city boasts at least 350 families without reliable access to drinking water.
North of Mérida, in Caribbean Falcón state, residents have been suffering weeks of inconsistent light and water supplies. “We have spent three days without light or a week without water, sometimes at the same time,” Flor Montero, a Falcón resident, tells El Universal, adding, “We can’t live like this.”
Residents of Falcón feel so alienated from the capital that they have begun staging protests, using tires and other large items to block major roads connecting Falcón to the rest of the country.
Habitantes del sector Cabecera de la Falcón – Zulia mantiene cerrada la vía. Afirman que llevan 2 meses sin agua. pic.twitter.com/EJ1N8gPrw0
— Diario La Mañana (@LaMananaDigital) February 19, 2016
While the socialist government of Venezuela insists that water rationing is the result of the El Niño climate phenomenon, as it did when imposing a potable water ration in 2014, some have claimed that government inefficiency is behind the shortage. Elisanower Depool, a Falcón city mayor as part of the Progressive Advance (AP) Party (a member of the Democratic Unity Roundtable), told publication La Patilla he believes money intended for programs to prevent water shortages never reached Falcón.
“We expressed [to the government] that part of the resources allocated to the contingency plan [for the water supply] were not oriented properly,” he told La Patilla. “There was no digging of deep wells to be used as a palliative solution.” A number of water projects had been approved with legislation financing it, but the money never made it to Falcón, Depool asserts.
The water crisis is the latest in a string of emergency shortages in the country, all attributed by many observers to government mismanagement. This month, the Venezuelan legislature declared a “nutritional emergency,” citing the severe lack of basic foodstuffs in the country, from flour and eggs to oil and milk. Venezuela has also completely run out of most medications, with 150 drugs – ranging from common painkillers to expensive cancer and AIDS medication – completely absent from the national supply.