Caracas (AFP) – Venezuela announced Friday it is shifting its time zone forward 30 minutes to save power and alleviate a severe electricity crisis the government blames on the El Nino weather phenomenon.
The move, effective May 1, will scrap a half-hour subtraction to the clocks Venezuela’s late former president Hugo Chavez introduced in 2007 that gave his country a slight offset to its neighbors.
The modified time will see Caracas go back to four hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) — sharing the same hour as Havana and Washington (on Eastern Daylight Time) — according to Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza.
Chavez’s successor, President Nicolas Maduro, ordered the change as part of a bid to have Venezuelans alter their daily habits and save electricity.
Other measures include giving government workers an extra day off each week for the next two months and Maduro has urged Venezuelan women to stop using their hairdryers.
The president has also made next Monday a public sector holiday, which will mean a five-day weekend because people are already off on Tuesday for Independence Declaration Day.
– Dams dangerously low –
Water levels in the country’s 18 hydroelectric dams have dropped to dangerously low levels, and citizens regularly suffer blackouts and water rationing.
The government blames the disruption on El Nino, a cyclical weather pattern that causes drought in parts of Latin America.
But the opposition sees it as another sign of gross public mismanagement, accusing the government failing to invest in the water system to keep up with demand.
The country’s power crisis has been ongoing since 2010, whereas the latest El Nino started in 2015.
Venezuela has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, but the government has resisted using crude to generate electricity, calling it inefficient.
Maduro’s other measures to cut electricity demand include reducing the workday to six hours for ministries and state companies and ordering them to lower their electricity consumption by 20 percent.
He has also ordered shops and hotels to ration electricity, obliging them to generate their own power for several hours a day.
Shopping centers have cut back their hours since that plan was introduced.
The water level in the dam feeding the El Guri hydroelectric plant in Venezuela’s southeast, which supplies 70 percent of the country’s grid, is just 3.66 meters (12 feet) above its required operating minimum.
Maduro has said there were currently no plans to slash high subsidies that keep electricity and water usage cheap.
“Hopefully we won’t have to go that far, but it all depends on each of us saving power, including the big consumers,” Arreaza said.
– ‘Simple’ time change –
The science minister said “it’ll be simple to move the clock forward a half hour — this will allow us to enjoy more daylight, and it won’t get dark so early.”
He explained that nighttime use of lighting and air conditioning was especially draining for the power grid.
Analysts, however, warn that the measures being introduced will further damage the productivity of the country, which is in serious economic straits. Its inflation rate of 180 percent for 2015 is the highest in the world, and basic goods are scarce.
Some workers complain that, although they might be getting more time off, they don’t have any money to enjoy it. So they end up doing more household chores or lining up at the supermarket for rare subsidized food items.