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Venezuela’s Water System is Collapsing

Venezuela’s Water System is Collapsing thumbnail
Fetching water from a mountainside in the Venezuelan capital Caracas.
CreditCreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

By Anatoly Kurmanaev and



The brick shack on the outskirts of Venezuela’s capital is crowded with tubs, jugs and buckets. The water they hold must last the family of eight for a week — but it’s not enough for frequent washing or flushing, so the kitchen is filled with greasy pots and the house smells of stale urine.

And none of the water is treated, making diarrhea and vomit a regular occurrence.

“We practically live in the bathroom,” said the mother of the family, Yarelis Pinto. Her pregnant daughter, Yarielys, sat nearby, pale and listless, recovering from her latest bout of diarrhea just one month away from childbirth.

In Venezuela, a crumbling economy and the collapse of even basic state infrastructure means water comes irregularly — and drinking it is an increasingly risky gamble. Venezuela’s current rate of infant mortality from diarrhea, which is closely related to water quality, is six times higher than 15 years ago, according to the World Health Organization.

But the government stopped releasing official public health data years ago.

So The New York Times commissioned researchers from the Universidad Central de Venezuela to recreate the water quality study they had conducted regularly for the water utility in Caracas from 1992 until 1999.

The scientists found that about a million residents were exposed to contaminated supplies. This puts them at risk of contracting waterborne viruses that could sicken them and threatens the lives of children and the most vulnerable.

“This is a potential epidemic,” said Jose María De Viana, who headed Caracas’s water utility, Hidrocapital, until 1999. “It’s very serious. It’s unacceptable.”

ImageResidents haul water in Caucagüita, a working class neighborhood in Caracas that goes without running water for months at a time. 
CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

In the latest study, 40 samples were taken from the capital’s main water systems and tested for bacteria and for chlorine, which keeps water safe. The study also tested alternative water sources used by city residents during supply outages.

One third of the samples did not meet national norms.

This should have required Hidrocapital to issue a sanitation alert, according to the utility’s own internal regulations. But Venezuela’s government has not issued any alerts at least since Mr. Maduro’s Socialist Party took power 20 years ago.

“The biggest health risk that we see there right now is water — water and sanitation,” the head of the International Federation of the Red Cross, Francesco Rocca, told foreign reporters this week, referring to Venezuela.

Venezuela’s stagnant economy went into a tailspin in 2014, when a collapse in the nation’s oil export revenues exposed the failure of Mr. Maduro’s disastrous policies of price and currency controls. The economy has imploded since, with Venezuela losing two thirds of its gross domestic product and at least 10 percent of its population.

Spokesmen for Hidrocapital, Venezuela’s water ministry and the ministry of information did not respond to questions about drinking water quality in the capital.


Red Cross workers distributed water containers and potable water purification tablets in Caracas in April.
CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

The risks posed by poor water quality are particularly threatening for a population weakened by food and medication shortages. But the problem cuts across the capital’s social, political and geographic divide, affecting wealthy gated communities and shantytowns, areas that support the opposition and those loyal to the government.

In Terrazas del Avila, a middle-class neighborhood whose water the study found was tainted with fecal bacteria, residents buy jugs from private companies to cook or drink, said Juan Carlos Castro, a doctor and community leader there.

“This is not drinking water,” he said of their tap water. “It’s a public health hazard.”

But buying water is a luxury in the neighboring shantytowns, where many survive on Venezuela’s minimum wage of $8 a month.

During the regular blackouts and water outages, Aleyda Sabino’s family in the Carapita shantytown walk to a nearby creek to get water. She has a kidney disease and is under doctor’s order to drink a lot of water every day. She tries to, although drinking from the creek often results in fever, vomiting and diarrhea.

“I feel I will get sick if I drink the water and sick if I don’t,” she said. Boiling the water requires cooking gas — another luxury that is unaffordable to many.


Aleyda Sabino in her kitchen, in the outskirts of Caracas. A cloth wrapped around the the tap of her kitchen sink serves as a makeshift water filter.
CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

Overall, the new study showed a significant decline in the city’s water quality over the last two decades.

Built with oil proceeds by the previous governments, the Caracas public water system was once an engineering feat, pumping 5 million gallons of water per second up thousands feet to the city’s mountain valley through complex aqueducts and hundreds of miles of pipelines.

The system was part of a broad investment in public infrastructure. The city’s piped cooking gas, its glitzy metro sprinkled with avant-garde art, its elevated motorways and its skyscrapers of public housing were examples of modernity in the neglected and volatile continent.

But while the rest of South America made dramatic improvements in drinking water access in the past two decades, Venezuela’s advances were instead hollowed out by underinvestment, mismanagement and six straight years of a spiraling economy under Mr. Maduro.

Outside Caracas, the breakdown of the water infrastructure is even more profound, leaving millions without regular supplies and forcing communities to dig wells and rely on untreated rivers.


Boys bathing in an improvised pool in San Felix, Venezuela, which has been without running water for months. Often conditions are worse outside Caracas.
CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

The collapse of water services has accelerated in the past two years, according to surveys conducted by universities and nongovernmental organizations. During that time, power cuts, pipeline outages, chemicals shortages and the mass exodus of qualified staff shook the state water utilities to their core.

Now, the Inter-American Development Bank estimates only 30 percent of Venezuelans have regular access to safe drinking water, compared to 60 percent in 2000.

“There hasn’t been a deterioration of this magnitude and duration in the region in recent history,” said Sergio Campos, the development bank’s chief water expert.

The water study commissioned by The Times showed the main water supply system, which provides about 60 percent of the capital’s water, was especially compromised. More than half of the samples taken from the main water system had insufficient chlorine; almost two thirds of the samples had levels of bacteria that exceeded regulations.


People bathing and washing their clothes in a stream that runs down the Avila mountain in Caracas.
CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

Venezuelan authorities have not published any public health data since at least 2017. But survey-based evidence collected by local health advocacy groups shows a correlation between the country’s declining water supply and the rise of waterborne diseases.

The incidence of hepatitis A, a liver infection, rose to 150 times above normal in Terrazas del Avila, the middle-class neighborhood, following a prolonged water outage in March, said Dr. Castro.

In the nearby slums, procuring, cleansing and storing enough drinkable water is a daily struggle — and a high-risk game of chance.

In March when a major blackout left many without water, hundreds of people took their water jugs to the sewage-filled Guaire River. In the Petare shantytown in the east, residents ambush water trucks to force them to unload in their neighborhoods.

In the San Isidro shantytown, water flowed for two days in September for the first time in six months. It came out dark with sludge that accumulated in the empty pipes.

The study found excessive bacteria in most of the sampled alternative water sources used by Caracas residents, such as mountainside springs, water sold in shops and water cisterns.


Ariana Mero taking advantage of a short period of running water to bathe her 7-month-old daughter, Arantza, in her home on the outskirts of Caracas.
CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

Ms. Pinto, the mother of five who lives in the San Isidro shantytown, bought water she thought was safer until 2017. She can no longer afford to, as she has no income and survives on the food her ex-husband brings for their children.

When Ms. Pinto’s tubs run dry, her family trudges to a nearby creek with jugs to fill. More fortunate neighbors pay for access to a homemade system made up of miles of interconnected hoses that carry water from a nearby hill.

“When I drink the water, I feel repulsion,” said Ms. Pinto.

Her five children are often laid low by vomiting and diarrhea, and the frequent bouts of illness make it hard for the adults to hold jobs. Only one of the four adults in the house worked, earning $8 a month cleaning floors.

But they have no choice, she said. “We have to consume what we have.”

The study’s researchers say the high bacteria levels in the samples are most likely caused by insufficient chlorine and the unstable supply. These problems have been caused by chronic lack of maintenance, mismanagement and the economic downturn, they say.

The economic crisis has shut down Venezuela’s only chlorine plant for months at a time, said a manager at the plant, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. And frequent electrical outages allow bacteria to accumulate in empty pipes, say the utility’s managers.


A large water tank has been dry for years in the working class neighborhood of Petare, in Caracas.
CreditMeridith Kohut for The New York Times

Several of the study’s worst results came out better when new samples were collected and tested again several weeks later, implying Caracas’s water quality varies greatly according to the chlorine availability and pipeline throughput on a particular day.

Electrical breakdowns and lack of maintenance have gradually stripped the city’s complex water system to a minimum. Water pumps, treatment plants, chlorine injection stations and entire reservoirs have been abandoned as the state ran out of money and skilled workers, according to seven former and current Hidrocapital managers who requested anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Dorka López until 2015 managed a water treatment plant that serves about 220,000 people in the capital’s satellite city of La Guaira. The plant’s five-stage purification process was reduced to just one — chlorine injection — after a mudslide damaged the plant in 2013, she said. No attempt was made to repair it.

Gradually, the plant stopped even testing the quality of the water it was supposed to be treating, she said. The staff brought their own drinking water to work.

“We were no longer treating the water, just sending it out,” she said.

NY Times

24 Comments on "Venezuela’s Water System is Collapsing"

  1. Robert Inget on Sat, 19th Oct 2019 3:08 pm 

    Skilled Workers who maintained Venezuela’s infrastructure are long gone.

    People of color, unskilled, that stayed are just surviving. Unlike Syria’s
    Kurds, at least Russians aren’t bombing.

    Now that the Chinese and Russians are taking over as VZ hits bottom there will be a slow, painful, recovery. China is selling US T bills to pay
    for VZ’s return to something ‘looking’ like normal.

    If Trump cancels Chevrons 80 year presence
    Russia’s oil takeover will be complete. Putin snagged BOTH Syrian and Venezuela’s crude oil in one month.
    Makes ya wish Trump were working for America,
    instead of self interest.

    It now depends on Putin, ‘Leader of the Locked Up World’.

  2. George on Sat, 19th Oct 2019 3:42 pm 

    So this is socialism. No thank you comrade Maduro.

  3. Obviously on Sat, 19th Oct 2019 4:20 pm 

    Failing US is the walking dead, just hasn’t woke to its reality. Soon.

  4. Cloggie on Sat, 19th Oct 2019 4:32 pm 

    “Skilled Workers who maintained Venezuela’s infrastructure are long gone.
    People of color, unskilled, that stayed are just surviving. Unlike Syria’s Kurds, at least Russians aren’t bombing.”

    Huh, did somebody just steal Bob’s nick or has he seen the (white) light?

  5. Cloggie on Sat, 19th Oct 2019 4:54 pm 

    The British Left smells blood:

    “Boris Johnson’s Super Saturday bubble bursts”

    Meanwhile in Italy…

    “Thousands take to streets in Rome for far-right rally”

    Where in continental Europe the populists are rapidly gaining ground, in the US+UK they either don’t exist (UK) or are not organised (US), where entire Eastern Europe, including Russia, is white nationalist by default.

    Hence the importance of a (temporary) removal of Britain from the European world: to enhance the chances of drawing right-wing Russia into Europe and really tilt the ideological balance against globalism and multicult.

  6. makati1 on Sat, 19th Oct 2019 5:41 pm 

    Good observation Robert. Trump is the best thing that could happen to the rest of the world. He is killing relationships and treaties everywhere. Isolation Amerika is the future.

    “Bring home the troops!”

    ‘Obviously’ is also spot on. Amerika, the walking dead. I see 2020 as a very exciting, as in, ‘crash and burn’, wake-up year for the US. Buckle up and pass the popcorn!

  7. Cloggie on Sat, 19th Oct 2019 6:08 pm 

    George Galloway still believes Brexit will happen:

    “Labour celebrates ‘pyrrhic victory,’ but Boris Johnson’s plan is a done deal – George Galloway”

    “By postponing a vote on Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, MPs have only complicated Britain’s divorce from the EU, and in the case of Labour, stacked their own “electoral funeral pyres,” former parliamentarian George Galloway told RT.”

    BoJo wrote two letters to the EU tonight:

    – one unsigned asking for an extension (he was obliged to do so)
    – one asking the EU NOT to grant that

  8. REAL Green on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 6:48 am 

    “Each European Uses Four Bathtubs of Water a Day for Electricity” Bloomberg

    “That’s the conclusion of research published this week by the European Union’s Joint Research Centre, which is urging the bloc’s leaders to pay closer attention to the amount of water used by traditional coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants. It takes more than 1,300 liters of water — enough to fill four bathtubs — to generate the electricity each European resident uses each day. “For the EU, to decarbonize and increase the share of renewables of its energy supply, it needs to formulate policies that take the water use of energy sources into account,” wrote the water and energy researchers led by Davy Vanham. Solar, wind, geothermal and run-of-river hydropower account for a “small fraction” of water used compared with what is consumed by biofuels and traditional thermal plants, they said. The findings focus attention on the rising competition for water resources between households, industry and agriculture. Exacerbating that friction is a string of heatwaves and lower rainfall levels that have prompted shutdowns at power plants across the continent during periods of peak strain. Some of those incidents have been traced back to climate change. The issue has been replicated in the U.S., India and China, underscoring how policies that touch on water, energy and food supplies”

  9. REAL Green on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 6:49 am 

    “Wood, the fuel of preindustrial societies, is half of EU renewable energy” energy skeptic

    “By far the largest so-called renewable fuel used in Europe is wood. In its various forms, from sticks to pellets to sawdust, wood (or to use its fashionable name, biomass) accounts for about half of Europe’s renewable-energy consumption. In some countries, such as Poland and Finland, wood meets more than 80% of renewable-energy demand. Even in Germany, home of the Energiewende (energy transformation) which has poured huge subsidies into wind and solar power, 38% of non-fossil fuel consumption comes from the stuff. After years in which European governments have boasted about their high-tech, low-carbon energy revolution, the main beneficiary seems to be the favored fuel of pre-industrial societies. The idea that wood is low in carbon sounds bizarre. But the original argument for including it in the EU’s list of renewable-energy supplies was respectable. If wood used in a power station comes from properly managed forests, then the carbon that billows out of the chimney can be offset by the carbon that is captured and stored in newly planted trees. Wood can be carbon-neutral. Whether it actually turns out to be is a different matter. But once the decision had been taken to call it a renewable, its usage soared… The upshot was that an alliance quickly formed to back public subsidies for biomass. It yoked together greens, who thought wood was carbon-neutral; utilities, which saw co-firing as a cheap way of saving their coal plants; and governments, which saw wood as the only way to meet their renewable-energy targets. The EU wants to get 20% of its energy from renewable sources by 2020; it would miss this target by a country mile if it relied on solar and wind alone… Wood produces carbon twice over: once in the power station, once in the supply chain. The process of making pellets out of wood involves grinding it up, turning it into a dough and putting it under pressure. That, plus the shipping, requires energy and produces carbon: 200kg of CO2 for the amount of wood needed to provide 1MWh of electricity.”

  10. REAL Green on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 6:50 am 

    Biomass collection is central to REAL Green localism. In my situation it is fire wood that comes from a managed wood lot. I use dead or dying trees as well as trees culled to improve forest growth. To keep biomass energy source affordable and net energy, it has to stay local. The further one goes from its source both with distance and type of handling the lower the benefit both in terms of carbon emissions and net energy. Wood really must remain a localized project. Energy Skeptic explains this well with the negative efforts of the EU’s biomass policy.

    The same is true for the capture of energy from one’s pasture and animals. Buying hay from a large operator is cheaper than making hay for oneself in many cases because of the economies of scale and the efficiency of large specialized operations. This is the nature of industrial agriculture over permaculture that seeks to integrate planetary cycles into the effort. Yet, the industrial way of making hay uses considerable amounts of fuel. If one can they should make an effort to make hay locally in small amounts with small equipment. Most struggle to do so because of the cost of the equipment compared with the return on that effort. I did the calculations and I am losing money doing it. REAL Greens looks beyond the economic cost towards local resilience and sustainability. My effort although costing more is actually beneficial to my local. There are ways I can create good habitat for my local natural effort by haying small batches. Another way to look at it is this is a productive hobby. Compare that to someone spending money on nonproductive hobbies.

    Running an efficient management intensive grazing operation with multi-species animal pasturing is more efficient and planet friendly than a large animal operation. Large animal operations require high stocking rates with intensive inpute and transport needs. This is a negative for the planetary health of a local. It is highly fossil fuel intensive. Of course, in this day an age of market-based capitalism and the income demands of modern life a large animal operation is a must to make a profit needed to live on. If you are going to do a permaculture management intensive grazing operation then it is more of a hobby and a side job to your main job. The same is true for wood for heat. When one adds together the cost of equipment and personal labor there is little or maybe no savings making a personal effort to heat your home with local biomass. The difference is sustainability, resilience, and increase in a local’s natural health of the permaculture effort. If or when the grid goes unstable with brownouts or there are shortages of fuels then the value of localized biomass collection can be realized. If nothing else there is a REAL Green reward in the form of satisfaction from finding meaning in activity.

    In addition to the low carbon energy collection from biomass REAL Green includes solar power with batteries. Solar power is gathered to augment energy usage from the grid. One could also go completely off the grid but REAL Green prefers to make that calculation based upon relative assumptions of ones needs and availability. There is the cost benefit equation and there is also the realistic treatment of different resources available to a REAL Green homestead.

    REAL Green seeks to localize and to harness low carbon capture the way our ancestors did but augmenting this with the efficiency and power of modern life in a personal equation. This equation is the effort to lower one’s net energy footprint but also create a more resilient and sustainable local. Getting some of one’s own food source locally, one’s heat, and producing some biomass in the form of hay and animals locally is as good as it gets. It is the simplicity of the equation that is made positive by localism. When one combines this with conservation strategies and behavioral changes like lowered travel and consumerism, we see a carbon footprint reduction. This can further be enhanced by making specialized products locally which then value add to this localism effort. Combining local carbon capture with specialized skills further enhances REAL Green. REAL Green is about using the status quo of a delocalizing globalism to leave it. It acknowledges the carbon trap we are in and the path dependency of delocalization of globalism. REAL Green is not magical like modern tech but it is more transformative by allowing a return to one’s local and the planet.

  11. Davy@REAL Green on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 7:24 am 

    I am spending less time on this lame unmoderated forum to concentrate on my own blog. I do want to thank all those who have attacked me with giving me material for growth. I have saved the best of my comments for my new blog. I have years worth of material. I have enjoyed moderating the worst of you and neutering your selfish useless agendas. I will still be here it is just I will be spending more time putting out a blog. I don’t expect much of a following with my blog. This is more a personal effort to assemble what I have learned over the last 10 years of formulating my REAL Green Deep Adaptation. For the stalkers here I hope you find my blog and visit the comment forum. It will be only lightly moderated to prevent juanpee identity theft and excessive cloggo spamming. LOL. There will be a prize for juanpee and annoymouse if you can stalk my blog. Double LOL. Anyway fuck my enemies and many thanks to those who contributed to my metamorphous.

    I guess I could have joined the moderated section at PO dot com, but I knew I’d get my ass permanently banned. I’ll try not to let the door smack me up the backside on the way out.

    Goodbye to ALL of you dumbasses.

  12. See cloggo and peakie?? on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 7:36 am 

    Davy@REAL Green on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 7:24 am

    fucknut juanpee ID theft copy and paste regurgitation.

  13. Go Speed Racer on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 8:48 am 

    Just like Trump said. Want some socialism? Go live in Venezuela. How about that old hideous
    bitch Nancy Pelosi. When will that corrupt
    bag of wickedness go away?
    Terrible wicked old piece of
    disgusting liberal filth,
    So old that she farts dust.
    She can ram her impeachment up her ugly old asshole.
    Fuck all the liberals. Trump is the
    supreme ruler of the Universe!!

  14. Davy on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 9:36 am 

    You go “Speedy “Go Speed Racer” Gonzales”.

    “I’m with Davy on this one. I hope Trump turns himself into a dictator so that he can send all the democrats to Auschwitz in railroad cars.” ~~~Speeder~~~

    Gee, thanks speeder. I quoted you verbatim. Now JuanP can’t claim we are not on the same page. You know, ‘Great minds hate alike.’

    Keep up the hate, friend.

  15. Davy@REAL Green on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 9:44 am 

    Hi “fucknut” Davy.

    Are you now claiming (lying) Davy@REAL Green is your ID?

    You must have just gotten up. Your lies are normally not so transparent. Get some more rest, love.

  16. Enemies List on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 9:55 am 

    The problem, Davy dearest, is you have thoroughly insulted numerous posters too often to mention. Ergo your enemies list is deep. We all take shifts to “moderate and neuter” your ugly nonsense. Oh, count me in as one who has unfriended you.

  17. JuanP ID theft on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 10:48 am 

    Enemies List said The problem, Davy dearest, is you have thoroughly…

    Davy@REAL Green said Hi “fucknut” Davy. Are you now claimin…

    Davy said You go “Speedy “Go Speed Racer” Gonzales”. “I’m wi…

    Davy said “This type of conflict can’t be compared to…

    Davy said “You and your “facts”. The price of the first 100…

  18. Cloggie on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 11:17 am 

    “Trump is the supreme ruler of the Universe!!”

    Minus Syria.

  19. Cloggie on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 11:21 am 

    ““I’m with Davy on this one. I hope Trump turns himself into a dictator so that he can send all the democrats to Auschwitz in railroad cars.””

    What’s the point? The BUNA rubber plant has been closed down.

  20. Davy Sock Puppet on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 11:34 am 


  21. Made up courtesy of JuanP on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 12:50 pm 

    ““I’m with Davy on this one. I hope Trump turns himself into a dictator so that he can send all the democrats to Auschwitz in railroad cars.””

    I (Davy) never said anything like that and the dumbass troll (JuanP) can show documentation

  22. Another Davy Sock Puppet on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 1:29 pm 

    Made up courtesy of JuanP on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 12:50 pm

  23. Davy on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 2:32 pm 

    Juanpee, show your documentation for this lie or eat shit:

    Another Davy Sock Puppet said Made up courtesy of JuanP on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 12…

  24. More Insane Old Man Garbage on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 2:42 pm 

    Davy on Sun, 20th Oct 2019 2:32 pm

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