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Caracas, the city without running water

Caracas, Feb 23 (EFE) .- Jeanette Celis longs for the rain to fall on the depressed Caracas neighborhood of La Vega one afternoon in late February. The water has not come out for months when you turn on the taps, as in much of Venezuela, and the water that falls from the sky could well fill the half dozen empty tanks you have at home. On the roof of his house, a sheet of zinc transformed into a gutter is capable of collecting rainwater and diverting it to a huge tank outside the house. “My husband is very intelligent to do these things,” Celis tells Efe, showing the rudimentary system, which is repeated in all the houses in La Vega. “He managed to do this, (but it works) more than anything when it rains. Piped water is impossible (to have),” adds the 41-year-old woman. Several meters higher, her neighbor Kimberly Bruzual tells Efe that she does not remember the last time that the water resource filled the pipes of her house and that she is without reserves because the rainwater that she was able to collect wasted long ago. To alleviate the shortage, the 19-year-old has had to look for water in the lower part of the hill, where every so often, a tanker truck carries several thousand liters that must be shared among the families of the neighborhood. That water has to “reuse”, this mother of a child who does not reach two years tells Efe. “I bathe the child with clean water, that water later I use to wash the diapers and after that I throw it into the bathroom (well),” he explains. Bruzual also said that the water he raises with the cistern or in a neighbor’s house is the same that he uses for cooking or drinking. When it is very cloudy, he strains it with a thick cloth and boils it, but only if it has gas, because most of the time he cooks with the wood he cuts in the upper part of the hill. EL AGUA DE LA POZA In another part of the hill that the La Vega neighborhood conquered, the worker Juan Millán bathes with his two children in a stream known as La Poza. With a service so irregular that it only delivers water a few times a year, anyone might think that La Poza will become a mandatory stop for everyone in La Vega, but it is not. In the neighborhood they know that some houses dump their sewage in this creek that often carries garbage or dead animals. “Normally we use it (the water from La Poza) when there is a shortage, to bathe and for the bathroom, to wash. We boil it and use it for the kitchen,” Millán tells Efe. “Right now it is like this (cloudy), but it always comes out white, white,” he adds before acknowledging that “he never” has bothered to know where the stream originates or if the water is suitable for consumption. “Sometimes we are in need because there is no water, here we have already about three months without water and we have to look for it, grab it (in La Poza),” he asserts. Jean Carlos Farías is in the same situation, a young man who says he is proud to have been born and raised in La Vega 26 years ago. For as long as he can remember, his family has consumed the water from La Poza. With it they wash, cook, clean and even quench their thirst. “My grandfather was a founder here and people have been drinking water from this place for years. Supposedly they did a study and they said that it had (the water) some mineral things from the earth, which could not be consumed like that, but everyone drinks it now. Nobody has ever happened to him, “he says. Of course, Farías and his family take some precautions. They always boil the water before drinking it and only consume that which is on a slope of the creek, where his grandfather installed a pipe that delivers constant liquid to his house some 20 years ago. “If they drink from the other one that is running (further down) there I do say that something can happen to people (…), there that is very bad,” he says, convinced by the fact that the sewage from his house -including the bathroom- flow into the lower part of the ravine. A NATIONAL PROBLEM The public policy expert and director of the local NGO Ojo Avizor, Norberto Baussón, warns Efe that the failure in the supply of running water affects, in the best of cases, almost 9 out of 10 households in the country . “The percentage per region varies between 87% and 99% of affectation due to lack of water. What that means is that it is a national problem, not a problem associated with a region or some circumstance,” he says. According to the expert, the mismanagement of the country’s aqueducts and the loss of qualified personnel due to the massive emigration of Venezuelans due to the economic crisis are the causes of supply failures. “We have installed, nationwide, about 140,000 liters per second and today we can only pump more or less half, about 70,000 liters per second,” he explains. He also points out that the high areas, such as the La Vega neighborhood of Caracas and hundreds of poor areas of the country, are the most affected. “The higher you are in the network, the more affected you are. The poorest do not have the resources to build alternative systems as many of the middle class have done through other sources, such as deep wells or cisterns, to which they are you can appeal, say with your resources. ” With this scenario, millions of Venezuelans from the poorest neighborhoods can only wait for water to fall from the sky to fill their tanks, as is the case in La Vega. And, as the neighbors there say, for them it is normal and even common to use rainwater, because the pipes where the water that the State manages should come out have been dry for months. Ron González (c) EFE Agency

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