U.S. Water News Online
CARACAS, Venezuela -- After coping with food and fuel
shortages during a recent two-month strike, Venezuelans are now
dealing with scarcity of another essential -- water.
This South American country is facing a drought that is severe
even for its dry season, which runs from November to May. The
government has imposed water rationing in Caracas, whose 5 million
residents are without water two to four days a week.
Things are especially tough for residents of the red-brick
shantytowns that cling to the mountains ringing the city. The
shortage is forcing slum dwellers to rely on water delivered by
``Before we received water almost everyday,'' said Freddy Fuentes,
an unemployed father of four. ``It comes about once every two weeks
The shantytown where Fuentes lives lacks sewers and plumbing, so
he and his neighbors buy water from a truck at $1.30 a barrel.
They haul it up a dusty mile-long hill in plastic containers to
their tin and wood shack. One purchase ``lasts a couple of days for
washing, cooking, bathing and cleaning,'' Fuentes said.
Rationing could continue until the end of the dry season, said
Jacqueline Faria, president of Hidrocapital, the government water
company that serves Caracas.
Everyday, Faria appears in television advertisements pleading with
Caracas residents not to waste water. To enforce that message, her
agency swore in 100,000 kids as ``water guardians,'' assigned with
warning family and friends not to waste water.
The basin that feeds the Camatagua reservoir, the source of more
than half the capital's supply, hasn't gotten rain for months.
``I've never seen it this low,'' said Juan Quintero, a fishing
guide at Camatagua, 40 miles from Caracas.
Luis Olivares, a meteorologist at the Cajigal Observatory, which
measures rainfall and weather conditions in Venezuela, said 2.3
inches of water fell in Venezuela's central region during November
and December. None has fallen since.
``These figures generally reflect the quantity of rainfall across
the country during that period,'' Olivares told The Associated Press.
The drought also has caused an increase in forest fires.
Firefighters have put out 2,334 forest fires since October, most of
them in the Avila mountain range that looms over Caracas, said
Greater Caracas Mayor Alfredo Pena. That compares with 1,320 forest
fires reported in the area for the full year beforehand.
The government has banned residents from using all but three of
the trails in the Avila National Park because of the fire risk. On a
highway bordering the park, motorists stop to fill up containers from
trickling drain pipes.
The rationing is another headache in what has already been a
difficult year for the impoverished country of 24 million.
The strike to try to force the ouster of President Hugo Chavez
paralyzed Venezuela's vital oil industry, forcing motorists to wait
for hours to fill their tanks. Fresh milk, soft drinks, beer, corn
flour and some medicines disappeared from stores.
The failed strike ended last month, and fuel supplies have
returned to normal. Shortages of some medicine and imported goods
were starting to reappear, however, because of a new exchange control
system that tightly regulates how Venezuelan can buy dollars.
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