CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) – Venezuela’s economic collapse left most homes without reliably running water, so Caracas resident Iraima Moscoso saw water gathered at an abandoned construction site as the end of suffering for thousands of her poor neighbors .
Workers had long since stopped building a nearby highway tunnel through the mountain above them. Still, spring water continued to collect within the viaduct and then wasted past their homes. The construction company had also left coils of pipes.
59-year-old Moscoso called on her neighbors to salvage the materials and build their own system, tap the tunnel’s huge lagoon, and lead the waterline to their homes. Today, they are free from the crumbling service of the city and enjoy what many in Venezuela consider luxurious.
“Everyone here has water,” said Moscoso, sitting on the steps of her hilly neighborhood of cinder block houses. “We all benefit from it.”
The water crisis in Venezuela is nothing new, but it has begun to drive residents to extraordinary measures – working together to rig their own water systems and even dig shallow wells at home. Water is even more important today as a way to protect against the pandemic.
Critics of the Socialist government blame chronic infrastructure failures on years of corruption and mismanagement that have also left the power grid vulnerable and destroyed Venezuela’s once thriving oil industry.
An estimated 86% of Venezuelans reported an unreliable water service, including 11% who have none at all, according to an April survey of 4,500 residents by the Venezuelan non-profit public service observatory.
María Eugenia Gil, of the Caracas-based Clear Water Foundation, says residents have no choice but to hunt for water, breaking a nationwide quarantine imposed to slow the spread of the new corona virus. They expose themselves to disease or may spread the virus to others, she said.
“They have no alternative,” said Gil. “You can’t be locked inside if you don’t have water.”
President Nicolás Maduro’s government has accused political enemies of sabotaging pumping stations and recently celebrated the purchase of a fleet of 1,000 ‘super tanker trucks’ from China to supply water to residents.
That’s not a solution for Arcangel Medina, 66, who recruited young men in his neighborhood to dig for five days, hitting water at a depth of four meters (13 feet). He bought $ 200 worth of pipes and an electric pump to share the water with other houses.
“We haven’t had running water for four months,” said Medina, complaining that when the city lines ran every two weeks, dirty water spurted from his taps.
“It’s a blessing,” said Medina, one of the dozen residents of his industry who took the drastic measure. Then he had to figure out how to get rid of the garbage heap on the street in front of his house.
Moscoso, who proudly organized her neighbors to build their own system, estimates that 5,000 people in her neighborhood now have water. It started to flow in May, said Moscoso, who works at the mayor’s office.
Their above-ground waterline starts at the mouth of the abandoned tunnel and runs 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) – under a highway, stretched from electricity poles across a city street and to their homes.
Four other neighborhoods have similar lines from the tunnel.
Moscoso said the water is perfectly safe and drinks a glass as proof. She declined to say how much it would cost them after she salvaged the abandoned pipes, alleging that she hadn’t had time to add up the costs.
“It’s invaluable to me,” said Moscoso.
Scott Smith on Twitter: @ScottSmithAP
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