Caracas residents face water shortage amid blackout

Residents taking water from a drainage pipe by the Guaire river in San Agustin district, Caracas, on Monday. Millions of residents in the Venezuelan capital now face a shortage of drinking water days after a crippling power blackout stalled the city'
Residents taking water from a drainage pipe by the Guaire river in San Agustin district, Caracas, on Monday. Millions of residents in the Venezuelan capital now face a shortage of drinking water days after a crippling power blackout stalled the city's pumps. The crisis has led many to seek water in places they previously would not want to visit, like the Guaire river, essentially an open sewer.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

CARACAS • Plastic bottles and containers at the ready, Ms Keisy Perez ignores the stench from the brown river as it slips slowly through the grimy San Agustin district of Venezuela's capital.

The quest for drinkable water has rapidly become an obsession for millions like her in Caracas days after a crippling power blackout stalled the city's pumps.

In this part of Caracas, the Guaire river is effectively an open sewer.

The crisis has led many to seek water in places they would previously not want to go. People here are undeterred.

A burst water main has brought a feverish crowd, equipped with every kind of plastic container they can find.

The water courses through an underground culvert to emerge as a stream. In their desperation, they are content to ignore its proximity to the murky river. In their rush, some slipped down the bank and into the river.

For Ms Perez, it is just another indignity of Venezuela's crisis.

"We came to get water and I fell in. And look, it didn't kill me," she said cheerily. But she could not hide her exasperation after going days without electricity or running water, following years of food and medicine shortages.

"Are they waiting for us to die?" she asked.

"We have no water and nothing to drink," Mr Marcel Galindez said as he filled a 20-litre container.

"We'll have to boil it," he said, looking doubtfully at the contents. Alongside him, a girl washed her hair.

To get at the stream means getting close to the fetid river.

"But just thinking about getting into that river, you have to think about it like three times," said Mr Eduardo Escalona.

"It's crazy. People are desperate," sighed the 43-year-old, looking at the crowd around the canal.

Every day of the blackout has brought more people to take a chance on the water from the burst pipeline. But soldiers deployed ordered them to move on, so workmen could fix the pipe.

An angry crowd of some 300 people blocked the road on Monday. "They're not letting us get water," said a local resident, who gave his name only as Carlos.

"We are thirsty," the crowd yelled at security forces. "We need water for our kids."

At Los Caobos park in the centre of Caracas, a woman arrived with a bag of laundry at one of the ornamental fountains, where hundreds of people had come to fill their containers and bottles.

"We're managing... Tomorrow, I'll come back to wash the sheets and towels in the fountain," said the woman, who declined to be named.

Hundreds of people were trying their luck on the northern outskirts, on the foot of Mount Avila, which separates Caracas from the Caribbean.

There, they wait every day in long lines to take turns to fill their containers from the trickles emerging from the wooded slopes.

All the scampering around for water is too much for Ms Yulimar, who sank down in despair. "I have nothing to feed my children," she said.

Last Saturday, the socialist government of President Nicolas Maduro announced an emergency plan to distribute food and water to the poorest neighbourhoods and the distribution began on Monday.

Riot police used shields to corral lines of people as they waited to fill up from tankers in several neighbourhoods.

But Ms Keisy, still waiting for a water delivery, said she had received nothing from the social government's subsidised food programme for weeks.

"Maduro talks, but we don't see anything. We're hungry here, nobody gets anything, whether they are Chavists or opposition."

China yesterday offered to help Venezuela as it faces the crippling power blackout which Mr Maduro has blamed on the United States. Mr Maduro called for support from allies including Russia and China as well as the United Nations in investigating the US "cyber attack" that he said was responsible for the blackout.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 14, 2019, with the headline 'Caracas residents face water shortage amid blackout'. Print Edition | Subscribe