Venezuelans struggle to find water in the aftermath of blackouts

Caracas, Venezuela – Weeks of power cuts in Venezuela have further crippled an already fragile infrastructure, creating widespread water shortages hampering basic services.

Power has been restored in many areas but it is being rationed, and without electricity to run pumps there is not enough water in many areas. 

“Imagine the scenario of a hospital without water, without power. We remain without a water supply. Even though the power has been restored, the water is still an issue,” said paediatrician Vietnam Veras Rivas at Caracas’ Children’s Hospital.

“The first blackout hit on March 7, and until a week ago, I was working in this hospital with no water whatsoever,” Rivas told Al Jazeera.

During the first outage, one of his patients was a 10-day-old baby in an incubator in intensive care. He recalls transporting the child through the dark hospital, “while manually supplying him oxygen with some reanimation bags,” he said. 

“After 24 hours with intermittent power, the patient started decompressing and 48 hours later, he died.”

The baby had problems when he was born, but the blackout complicated things further, the doctor explained.

The hospital was already suffering a chronic shortage of supplies and equipment and the water problems made maintaining sanitary conditions “impossible”, he said. 

“We would wash our hands only when possible, we tried to not drink much water to avoid clogging the toilets.”

The first blackout hit on March 7, and until a week ago, I was working in this hospital with no water whatsoever,’ said Rivas, a paediatrician [Elizabeth Melimopoulos/Al Jazeera] 

 

‘Very stressful situation’

In the corridors of a poorly lit building in the capital city, people are visibly tired of the debate on how to build wells that could make it easier to get water.

They heatedly discuss the price of fixing a lift damaged by power outages, and share complaints about increasingly infrequent showers, unwashed dishes and stinking toilets. Water shortages are not new in Venezuela, but it has never been like this.

“Since 2014 we’ve been having issues with the water supply, but now it’s way worse, especially after the blackouts, we can spend 15 days without supply,” Yoana De Oliveira, 30, told Al Jazeera.

“It’s a very stressful situation, sometimes I want to shower, or wash my hair, and doing so with a bucket is not the way to go.”

For big families, the situation is even more complicated.

“I have a family of five, and I really need water to always be available,” said Carlos Rincon, a 42-year-old driver, said. 

“I’ve spent 10 continuous days without water. We’ve had to go shower in other places … I also have kids that don’t go to school, thus, water consumption is higher.”

“Hygiene is also an issue, as you cannot flush the toilets constantly, the kitchen is a mess, bad odours permeate the place where the trash door is, it’s unbelievable,” Rincon explained.

‘Since 2014 weve been having issues with the water supply, but now its way worse,’ Yoana De Oliveira said [Elizabeth Melimopoulos/Al Jazeera]

 

The first power outages hit Venezuela between March 7 and 14 and another blackout started on the evening of March 29, paralysing most of the country.

The continuous power outages followed the US ban in January on any purchases of Venezuelan oil.

President Nicolas Maduro has blamed the blackouts on US-backed sabotage.

“Venezuela is living the first unconventional war, which seeks to impose itself with attacks to public services by the US to overthrow a democratic government,” Maduro said on Wednesday night.

“We have to be prepared and continue in resistance to this war that Donald Trump decided to declare against the Venezuelan people,” he added.

But Luis Vincente Leon, from Datanalisis, a think-tank that focuses on Venezuela’s economy, said the power problems are the government’s fault.

“The [power] grid collapsed due to lack of investment and corruption, a situation that the own government has denounced in the past,” Leon told Al Jazeera. 

He said the outages are not a result of US sanctions, but that the ability of the country to respond “was indeed affected by the sanctions and the isolation that the US has imposed”.

“What is happening in Venezuela is equivalent to an earthquake, and where is international aid for this earthquake? It isn’t here, because in the end, what is being sought with this international pressure is to collapse the government, to get it out, to generate a social uprising,” he added. 

‘Traitors in the country’

The power failures and water shortages have accompanied a power struggle between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Guaido has been recognised by the United States and 50 other Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate leader.

Tensions further escalated when the Constituent Assembly voted on Tuesday to strip Guaido of the legal protections he has as a member of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled parliament.

“For me, this [action] is [still not enough],” said Constituent member Maria Leon.

How are traitors treated in the country? They do not deserve to be called Venezuelans,” the former minister said. 

Assembly Vice President Tania Diaz said its members were seeking justice.

“The people demand justice and we are acting within the framework of justice,” she explained while affirming that the all-powerful assembly was elected to guarantee peace and legality in her country. 

Guado said he didn’t recognise decisions that came from the current government.

“You know how the regime behaves – this is not just persecution any more, this is an inquisition,” Guaido said.

This decree is a necessary step for the Supreme Court to be able to try Guaido.

Guaido asked supporters to respond to Maduro’s “brute force”, and called for more street protests.

US support

The US has continuously backed the opposition leader.

“The only thing preventing Venezuela from the road to economic reconstruction and prosperity is Maduro’s corruption, incompetence, and usurpation,” John Bolton, National Security adviser of the United States wrote, on Twitter on Thursday.

“The US supports Juan Guaido and the Venezuelan people on their journey to democracy.” 

On Tuesday night, Republican senator Rick Scott also wrote: “The US will not stand idly by if anything happens to Guaido or his family.”

But not everyone believes US backing benefits the country. 

“The opposition’s theme is that Maduro leaves, but it has not done anything that convinces me, it feels like a push and shove,” businesswoman Yanira la Cruz told Al Jazeera.

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