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Due to years of underinvestment in the water processing system, and a rich abundance of crude oil, water in Venezuela is now twice as expensive as gasoline.
Residents in Caracas have become wary of tap water after it was discovered that Lake Mariposa, a reservoir that supplies tap water to 750,000 Venezuelans, has become seriously contaminated due to its role as a site for followers of Santería, a syncretic religion of West African and Caribbean origin influenced by and syncretized with Roman Catholicism, to dispose of their garbage and sacrifice animals.
The lake was last cleaned four years ago, when dozens of animal carcasses were dredged from its bottom, a councillor of the Los Salinas municipality told Bloomberg.
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Water from the lake is pumped into a 60-year-old treatment facility that lacks the adequate technology to clean it of the toxins and make it safe for drinking. Fernando Morales, an environmental chemistry professor at the Simon Bolivar University of Caracas, said that “the treatment process has not adapted to the steady degradation of the water source. I wouldn’t use this water at home.”
He explained that the utility’s water treatment systems were incapable of dealing with the level of contamination at the lake. The chlorine used would kill the bacteria, but not the viruses. In order to make the water safe for consumption, the viruses must be removed with molecular sieves and modern biological monitoring systems which do not exist in Venezuela.
The market for bottled water is booming, with families paying $4.80 for a five gallon jug of clean water, twice the price of gasoline.
The water crisis really began with Hugo Chavez’s rise to power. In 1998 a year before his election as president, the state-owned water monopoly, Hidrocapital, had a yearly budget of $250 million, but in 2010 that had been reduced to just $9.7 million, according to the company’s former vice-president Norberto Bausson.
The socialist revolution supported by Chavez redirected the funds from the state-owned companies to be used in projects that helped to reduce poverty and widen access to education, health care and housing. 422,340 houses were built for Venezuela’s poor in the past two years, but all at the cost of basic services.
Venezuela has the world’s largest oil deposits, and eight times as much fresh water per capita than France, yet the country is suffering blackouts and a water crisis.
By. Charles Kennedy of Oilprice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com