Life without water: Sweaty, smelly and furious in Caracas

Bottles used to collect water are stored under a sink in a Caracas flat. A man-made drought is leaving residents from all social backgrounds in Venezuela without water.
Bottles used to collect water are stored under a sink in a Caracas flat. A man-made drought is leaving residents from all social backgrounds in Venezuela without water.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

CARACAS • When I am lucky, a trickle flows though my apartment building's rickety pipes. When I am really lucky, they deliver as much as 30-straight minutes worth of H2O. That is enough to fill up the 910-or-so-litre tank in my kitchen and trigger a celebration.

I will do something crazy and run the water until it gets really hot before I jump into the shower.

The tank is hooked up to the building's distribution system, so I do not have to be present to collect the precious liquid. In past rentals, I had no net. I did the mad Caracas water dash when the pipes mysteriously started flowing while I was home. I would fill buckets, pots, coffee mugs - anything.

True enough, in Caracas, we go without reliable access to an extensive list of basic life essentials, from toilet paper to toothpaste. But if you ask me, dry taps are by far the most unpleasant of the epic shortages.

Dishes are brushed off and reused, and clothing is not something regularly laundered, though, personally, I draw the line at multiple wearings of underwear or socks.

You ask friends if it is okay to flush. You often do not. We are sweaty and smelly, especially in the rainy season when the humidity can top 80 per cent.

We are at risk, too, because water stagnating in the vessels that people stash around their homes attracts mosquitoes; malaria rates have soared. The poorest, as usual, have it the worst, though no one is spared.

Hospitals and schools, posh neighbourhoods and slums, they all go without water - at times for weeks on end - making this man-made drought arguably the most equalising disaster the socialist government has ever managed to engineer.

There is solidarity in our sticky existence, which is born  of crumbling infrastructure.

We are not ashamed to ask to use an acquaintance's shower, and banging on doors in the wee hours to sound the alert that water has suddenly started flowing, is not annoying but proof you are a good neighbour.

 

In a deeply divided nation, protesters of all political stripes have taken to the streets to block traffic and hoist signs saying "Water is a Right".

For the super-wealthy, a somewhat effective solution has been found. They now dig their own wells. Those a rung or two below them pay to have water trucked in daily by companies that collect it from springs in the surrounding mountains.

The needy flock to the springs themselves. They will pile children and bottles and tubs into rickety old cars each weekend to make the drive over.

And once the containers are filled and the kids are bathed, they head back home.

BLOOMBERG

•This is part of a series of short stories that seeks to capture the surreal quality of life in Venezuela.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2018, with the headline 'Life without water: Sweaty, smelly and furious in Caracas'. Print Edition | Subscribe