Yellow Water, Dirty Air, Power Outages: Venezuela Hits a New Low
It has been an exceptionally painful year for Venezuelans, suffering from violent crime, chronic shortages, plummeting oil prices on which they depend, declining health and fractured government. Yet this past week it seemed to reach a new low. A kind of resigned misery spread across a city that had once been the envy of Latin America.
A sudden combination of natural disasters joined man-made failures. The smog, called calima, is a meteorological phenomenon that involves ash and dust clouds fairly common for this time of year. Meanwhile a prolonged drought blamed on El Nino and related forest fires has arrived. Levels at the Guri dam in the south, which produces 40 percent of the country’s electricity, fell to a record low of 242.33 meters on Monday.
Water Trucks Robbed
The lack of public order means attempts to alleviate the problems are going poorly. Water trucks dispatched to help reduce suffering from the drought, for example, are being routinely robbed. “Two or three times a week a water truck we send out is robbed,” said Tatiana Noguera, a water official. “The trucks get stopped by gangs who make the driver change the route and discharge the water in an area they control.”
More than 3,700 cases of respiratory illness related to calima have been reported at state health centers around Caracas since March, said Dr. Miguel Viscuna, an epidemiologist. Medicine -- like toilet paper, chicken and other basic goods -- is increasingly hard to find. “The water is coming out very yellow, very bad quality,” said Ana Carvajal, an infectious disease specialist at the Universitario Hospital in Caracas. “We’re seeing an uptick in different illnesses, especially diarrhea. The lack of clean water is causing skin problems like scabies and folliculitis. There’s no medicine. All we can do is prescribe sulfur soap.”
Kiomara Scovino, the president of a community council in eastern Caracas, said she’s seen stomach illness from the water and respiratory problems from the calima. Luis Felipe Pedroso, a 59-year-old taxi driver, said he’s having trouble sleeping because of a sore throat, eye irritation and congestion from the calima clouds. His neighborhood gets water three days a week.
“On the days when it comes, it’s only for a few hours and its very dirty,” he said. “This is unbelievable. The government hasn’t taken any measures to solve these problems."
Earlier this month, President Nicolas Maduro announced a 60-day plan to conserve electricity, declaring every Friday in April and May a holiday for public workers. On Thursday, he said this weekend would last 5 days for public workers and that he’d change the country’s time zone and further curtail power use by shopping malls.
Water Trucks Robbed