Desperate Venezuelans Swarm Sewage Drains in Search of Water


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As Venezuela’s five-day power blackout left homes without water, Lilibeth Tejedor found herself looking for it on Monday in the last place she would have imagined – a drain pipe feeding into a river carrying sewage through the capital, Caracas.

Tejedor, 28, joined dozens of people who had flocked to the Guaire river, which snakes along the bottom of a sharp ravine alongside Caracas’ main highway, to fill up a four-gallon (15 liter) plastic container.

Unlike the fetid liquid flowing through the Guaire river, the water emerging from the pipe was at least clear. Those who gathered to collect it said the water had been released by local authorities from reservoirs.

They added, however, that it was being carried through unsanitary pipes and should only be used to flush toilets or scrub floors.

“I’ve never even seen this before. It’s horrible, horrible,” said Tejedor, preparing to carry the container on a small hand cart back to her home in the neighborhood of San Agustin.

Tejedor, who works at a computer technology store, has a two-year-old daughter and takes care of two nieces.

“The ones that are most affected are the children, because how do you tell a child that there’s no water?” she said.

The lack of water has become one of the most excruciating side effects of the nationwide blackout that the government of President Nicolas Maduro has blamed on U.S.-backed sabotage but his critics call the product of corruption and incompetence.

The blackout has worsened the situation of a country already facing a hyperinflationary economic collapse that has spurred a mass migration and turned once-basic items like corn flour and toilet paper into unaffordable luxuries for most people.

After five days without electricity to pump water, Venezuelans from working-class neighborhoods to upscale apartment towers are complaining of increasingly infrequent showers, unwashed dishes, and stinking toilets.

Caracas needs 20,000 liters of water per second from nearby watersheds to maintain service, said Jose de Viana, an engineer who ran Caracas’ municipal water authority in the 1990s.

Last week that had fallen to around 13,000 and since Thursday’s blackout it has halted completely, he said.

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