Rain & Tamarindo Juice

In Maracaibo, if you get any water, it’s most likely brown and you’d be lucky: most people have to buy their water or wait for rain.

Photo: El País retrieved

In the wee hours of an October morning, Edward was shaken awake by his parents: “It’s raining, get the bottles, quick!” 

In the building where he lives, in southwestern Maracaibo, there’s been no running water for 18 months. They’ve had to get creative: buying water from trucks, for up to $20 at a time in a country where the minimum wage is $15; moving the water with baby carriages or supermarket carts full of bottles; grabbing water in cans when it rains, as the Yukpa, Bari or Wayuu tribes had for hundreds of years. It’s quite the affair in the country’s second largest city, where the temperature can reach 38°C. 

In southwestern Maracaibo, there’s been no running water for 18 months.

Edward lives on the sixth floor, and that day his parents carried five-liter water bottles up the stairs, because there was no power for the elevators. A neighbor, also collecting water, shot a video for her family in the U.S.: “This is how it is in Venezuela. We’ve had no running water for over a year and look: we’re harvesting rain water.” Thanks to the rain, they showered, did the dishes and filled their WCs. Some neighbors boil the water and drink it. 

Graciela has found other solutions: she takes bottles to her office, fills them up and brings them home. It’s better than buying bottled water for 5,000 bolivars in cash, in a region where ATMs have none, the lines for banks are too long and you can retire just small sums. 

Graciela’s mother is 51 years old and, from time to time, she walks a few blocks to the Banco de Venezuela, where “thankfully” they allow her to fill her bottles up. “Talk to security guards, they help the community. Bring a 5L bottle in a bag and another one in your hand,” explains Graciela. It doesn’t matter how much they try, it’s never enough: “We can’t shower right because we gotta be careful about the water we spend. It’s pretty uncomfortable.” 

It’s Plain Dirty

In July 2019, The Zulian Human Rights Commission (Codhez) published a report about public services, mentioning how, due to the lack of water in the region, protests had increased with dozens of communities going months without a single drop. In fact, in many slums, tanks were kidnapped by the neighbors. 

According to Codhez, Marabinos have been forced to find water in the Hidrológica del Lago de Maracaibo (Hidrolago) filling stations, or even in the pipes from public squares or streams, sometimes connected to sewage. 

Enrique Ferrer, president of the Zulia Construction Chamber, says that the problem of drinking water distribution lies on the Plant C reparations, the complex pumping water to Maracaibo and other municipalities.

“Out of six sedimentation pools, only two work. That’s a 33% of capacity,” he says. The sixth pool was built ten years ago and it never worked. These pools’ main objective is purification; Ferrer says that the water needs settling down for days in the pools to be clean, but because of high demand, it only rests for a few hours. Besides, if they don’t all work at the same time, the water gets dirty. Dozens of citizens have denounced it: the water is brown and sandy. Tamarindo juice from the pipes, says a popular joke.

Due to the lack of water in the region, protests had increased with dozens of communities going months without a single drop.

“We need the pools that aren’t working to connect with the rest, to make distribution better.” Out of five pumps in Tulé, where they pump to the pools, only three work and replacing them is expensive, according to Ferrer: “A new pump is around $600,000.” 

When the water crisis started getting worse, the mayor of Maracaibo, Willy Casanova, said that water pumping from Tulé to Maracaibo had been reactivated: “The service will progressively be recovered in each sector. We’re confident the situation will get better in the next few days.” 

That was in February. Then came the blackout, looting and Maracaibo became what it is today.