It is one of those days where it is just hot and humid. Your clothes stick to your body by a thin, uniform layer of sweat. It is 3:07 pm, and the air is stagnant. It isn’t sunny. In fact, dark, threatening clouds cover the sky. A downpour starts. Dogs and cats pour down. You head to your bathroom to take shower, just to cool yourself from this crazy hot Saturday afternoon. You reach for the knob, but there is no water. No water in your pipes at least. You become furious. You think, in your anger, to just go outside and shampoo in the rain, in the middle of the street, make this some kind of spectacle. Of course, you don’t.

Water is like that. When you first start to notice problems, it means that your are up to your neck in them, and you are years away from any viable solution. You have to plan. Plan for growing population, of course, but especially for system changes. You know, like climate change.

One thing the new National Assembly has done right is to summon the head of Hidroven (Venezuela’s water management state institution). Proper water management is crucial in any country, but particularly important in Venezuela. It’s not just about the kind you drink or shower with, it’s about the water that powers 60% of our electricity generation.

 
In Venezuela it will rain less often, but when it does rain, it will pour. The outlook calls for both more droughts and more floods. Our antiquated infrastructure is not designed to deal with such variability.

In theory, there’s consensus. No one here argues that global warming isn’t a thing. The government agrees, environmentalist agree and private sector doesn’t care enough to voice an opinion either way. There’s little need to weigh in on a regulation that’s never enforced.

Where things go south is when it comes to action. Venezuela is vulnerable in the face of climate change. Environmentalists know it, academics know it, the IPCC knows it, the government knows it. In fact have, for over a decade, government agencies have been warning about the dire effects of global warming and its impact over our land of grace..

Climate change boils down to this very simple idea. The earth is getting warmer, by doing so the water cycle accelerates. You know, from primary school, water evaporates, makes clouds, rains, make rivers that end in the ocean. But also higher temps means that the atmosphere can soak in more moisture. The result is both simple and dramatic. In Venezuela it will rain less often, but when it does rain, it will pour. The outlook calls for both more droughts and more floods. Our antiquated infrastructure is not designed to deal with such variability.

The INAMEH has shown impressive professionalism in publishing and researching what is happening and what’s likely to come next. Its 2004 report remains the most thorough assessment on what a warmer planet will mean for Venezuela.

A brief summary of what their models see and predict:

  • Average temps will increase by 3.2C
  • Average rainfall will decrease in the Northern-Coastal region (where 80% of the population leaves and most of the reservoirs are)
  • Average rainfall in the Caroni Basin will decrease as much by 20% putting pressure on our ability to generate electricity using current dams.
  • Land suitable for farming will also be reduced and desertified.
  • El Niño and La Niña years will worsen these trends
  • Rising tides. 3184 hectares flooded. Many beaches will disappear. The port of Guanta will be for scuba divers to enjoy.

Our first real drinking water crisis came in the El Niño year of 1997-98. It wasn’t a particularly intense drought we had that year, but it was long. Caracas’s reservoirs saw levels plummet and rationing was implemented for three years to get them back to normal.

Since climate change increases variability the effects the infrastructure will certainly not be suitable for the near future.  

Let me just stress, this is all from a now twelve year old report. All the way back in 2004, the policy recommendations were clear:

  • A better, more concise legal framework is needed. Water rights are basically given ad hoc but these basin councils who are either not operating or barely functioning.
  • Price. Yes, an official report called for putting a price on water to create the proper incentives to save.
  • Fiscal incentives. Tax breaks for water saving investments and fines for water wasting.
  • Infrastructure. Investment is needed for groundwater recharge, reservoirs, irrigation canals.

In the 12 years since,  the climate has changed. Venezuela’s temperature is a couple degrees warmer (as predicted) and we are now seeing the consequences.

Siboney Tineo from Hidroven argues that he can’t do anything due to the lack of rain. Definitely not today. We needed to work on this many years ago.  

By the way, water is just the tip of the iceberg. The effects on crops, cattle, disease spread that a couple of degrees cause are huge.

“Adaptation is no longer an option but a need given that climate change and its related effects are already happening”.

 

Panel Intergubernamental de Cambios Climáticos (PICC 2001)

 

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. Pathetic! . Climate change is a boogey man that has no place in a blog were so many issues in Venezuela can be discussed. This is a global issue if it is an issue at all. If you are interested please go to Realclimate or Whatsupwiththat depending on your inclination. Caracaschronicles has little to add to the subject.

    • Real scientists welcome debate, welcome others attempting to expose flaws in hypothesis. The climatologists that seek to shut down debate, and keep their flawed and changed historical data in secret, are all sucking the teat of the government that seeks to impose its will and taxation upon the nonbelievers.
      The Whatsupwiththat site has done outstanding service exposing the lies of the global warmist cult.

      • Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe Poe

    • Blaming the Chavistas is because of the lack of prevision and planning to sort these things, nobody blame them about the global warming.

      El niño has been always periodic event, they knew this would happen, may be they didn’t count on the seriousness of the matter, but they knew this would happen: they counted with the resources and the time to avoid or at least to reduce the impact and they didn’t.

      I don’t think in any way i have been unfair. Chavistas are responsible for this debable.

  2. Excellent post. I wonder.. If our beaches are part of our heritage as venezuelans, with rising tides and dissapearing beaches… will we be a bit less Venezuelan?

  3. I don’t think the Climate Change debate is too important for this matter. Whether it is real or not? The issue is still how we are gonna cope with the changes in our climate and weather (two different things). In terms of water there are many issues:

    1. The price system. We really don’t know how much it cost to provide for water. We don’t know how much is the government paying and we don’t know how much of the cost we cover. It’s basically the same discussion we had on the prices of gasoline.
    2. Water administration. It’s absurd to have a centralized system for water. It just does not work. I think that the national government should be in charge of production (managing the reservoirs); states in charge of distribution (main water pipes); and municipalities in charge of maintenance and setting the price. National and State government “charge” the municipalities who then put a price on water. (This is in case you don’t want the private to do it).
    3. We have to bear in mind that not only our infrastructure is somewhat outdated. When you are dealing with water is not only about the aqueduct system. We have to deal with the sewer system as well (drenaje y cloacas; not the same).
    4. Recycling. One of the main issues I see is that the way our aqueduct system works is taking water from a basin and moving it to another (mainly because local basins don’t have enough water). How much of that water we reuse? In Venezuela not even 10% of the water we consume is being treated and re-pumped to the system. Almost everything is thrown away (and I don’t want to talk about how much pollution that causes).
    5. Destruction of aquifers. In our cities we use a lot of the local aquifers to sustain our water consumption. The problem is that we don’t take into consideration how having our cities paved up to the roofs eliminates any chance of water going back to the local aquifers the percolation. In consequence, our sewers must be able not only to move all that water that is pouring down when it actually rains, but also the water we are moving from other basins. Thus increasing the amount of infrastructure we need.
    6. Water demand. How much water do we actually need? In Venezuela, water consumption is set up by decree. Right now is about 300-350 lts/person/day when international institutions like the BID say it should be like 100 lts/person/day. So basically we are over supplying water by decree. We have no mechanism to manage drought seasons and we have historically spent more money than necessary.

    I think these are the main problems we should be addressing today. I hope this comment provides insightful information about the real issue we are facing. You can also read in spanish something I wrote two years ago http://repensandolaciudad.blogspot.com/2014/05/10-apuntes-sobre-el-agua.html (sorry for spamming).

  4. Thank you, Rodrigo, for delivering a piece on such an important topic. I think the water-energy problem is part of the overall attitude of living in this constant “emergency madness” that we are obsessed with. Government top functionaries have demonstrated to be, by all means, incapable of understanding and dealing such complex and long term issues, but also, we, as a society, have become completely oblivious to global discussions such as climate change mitigation and adaptation. The weather will continue to become more extreme and it is our generation’s responsibility to prepare for it. Here’s a publication you might enjoy: https://www.iamericas.org/documents/energy/reports/Beyond_Paris.pdf

  5. Dont forget that in cities like Caracas, you have to pump water from 200 meters up to 1200 mts (El Junquito) with an average of 700 – 900 meters height. This requires a huge amount of electricity, which now is also scarce… Stay tuned for terrible water rationing in Caracas …

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