Alfredo Araya used to dig wells on farms or in the countryside, but due to a failing water supply, he says demand for his services has recently exploded in Venezuela’s capital, Caracas.
Using a huge drill to puncture the ground, Araya smashed into the underground aquifer under an apartment building in the cozy Los Palos Grandes neighborhood of Caracas so that residents now have access to the gushing water. ‘a pipe.
Drilling 90 meters (295 feet) to find a water supply can cost $ 20,000 in a country where the minimum wage – including a government food voucher – is worth just over $ 2 a month.
But in Caracas – a city of seven million people – neighbors have pooled their resources and “pay together” to fund wells, said Araya, a 68-year-old engineer.
Dalila Escalona put $ 400 of her savings into one of these funds.
“We are making a big sacrifice… the collection was not easy,” said the 59-year-old architect.
“Although we are all committed, not all of us are able to pay. ”
After five months of negotiations via a WhatsApp group, the residents of his building were finally able to pool the money needed to build the well.
It’s a scenario that is repeating itself all over Caracas and the numbers are increasing exponentially, Araya says.
Venezuela, in crisis, has gone through three years of hyperinflation and has been in recession for seven years, with a water supply that has suffered badly.
The Independent Utilities Observatory estimates that nearly nine in 10 Venezuelans suffer from interruptions in their water supply, with some communities going months without receiving a drop.
The reserve that supplies Caracas has seen production decline by 40 percent over the past 20 years.
More than 55% of Venezuela’s 30 million people must store water in jars and bottles, according to the observatory, while 18.5% pay for water to be delivered by tankers.
– Fierce competition –
Caracas sits on “a huge pool of water” fed by rain and streams that run from El Avila mountain north of the capital, former company chairman Jose Maria de Viana told AFP National Water Hidrocapital.
Several parts of the capital were supplied from this reserve in the 1950s and 1960s, but the wells were gradually replaced with water pipes completed in 1980, de Viana said.
Reservoirs located miles from the capital are used by Hidrocapital to supply Caracas.
Water was provided almost free under former President Hugo Chavez, who came to power in 1999, but it required huge public investment and the pumping stations fell into disrepair under his successor Nicolas Maduro.
Whereas 20 years ago, Caracas received 20,000 liters (5,280 gallons) of water per second, it now receives only 12,000.
Overall, these factors have created fierce competition among the capital’s drilling companies.
The demands escalated during the coronavirus pandemic as many people began to see “the need” for a well, Araya said.
But all is not easy. These businesses need state permits to operate, which can take time.
And when drilling on public land, security services can ask for “contributions,” Araya said.
Bribes, he added, are simply “a toll to pay”.
– Water trauma –
Some local councils, such as the opposition-controlled municipality of Chacao in Caracas, have drilled wells for free in areas most affected by the shortages.
He built five wells, including two more under construction, a project much appreciated by locals like Julio Blanco, 45, who lives in the poor neighborhood of El Bucaral.
He spent almost three months without access to running water and sometimes went to El Avila with a wheelbarrow to fill the barrels.
“When the water gets here, we all jump. It’s touching, ”Blanco said.
Living without water, he says, “is traumatic.”
© 2020 AFP