Venezuela’s economic collapse has left most homes without reliable running water, so Caracas resident Iraima Moscoso saw water pooling at an abandoned construction site as the end of suffering for thousands of her poor neighbours.
Workers had long ago stopped building a nearby highway tunnel through the mountain above them. Yet, spring water continued to collect inside the viaduct and then stream past their homes, wasted. The construction firm had also left behind coils of tube.
Moscoso, 59, rallied her neighbours to salvage the materials and build their own system, tapping into the tunnel’s vast lagoon and running the waterline to their homes. Today, they are free of the city’s crumbling service and enjoy what many in Venezuela consider a luxury.
“Everybody here has water,” said Moscoso, seated on the stairs of her hillside neighbourhood of cinder block homes. “We all benefit.”
Venezuela’s water crisis is not new, but it has started driving residents to extraordinary measures – banding together to rig their own water systems and even hand dig shallow wells at home. Water today is even more important as a way to protect against the coronavirus pandemic.
Maria Eugenia Gil, of the Caracas-based nonprofit Clear Water Foundation, said residents have no other choice than to hunt for water, breaking a nationwide quarantine that was imposed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. They are exposing themselves to illness or possibly spreading the virus to others, she said.
“They don’t have an alternative,” Gil said. “You can’t stay at home locked inside if you don’t have water.”
President Nicolas Maduro’s government has accused political foes of sabotaging pump stations, and recently celebrated the purchase of a fleet of 1,000 “super tanker” trucks from China to deliver water to residents.
An estimated 86 percent of Venezuelans reported unreliable water service, including 11 percent who have none at all, according to an April survey of 4,500 residents by the nonprofit Venezuelan Observatory of Public Services.
Moscoso, who proudly organised her neighbours to build their own system, estimates that 5,000 people in her neighbourhood now have water. It started flowing in May, said Moscoso, who works at the mayor’s office.
Their above-ground waterline starts at the abandoned tunnel’s mouth and runs 1,000 metres (3,200 feet) under a highway, strung from power poles over a city street and down to their homes.
Four other neighbourhoods have run similar lines from the tunnel.
Moscoso said the water is perfectly safe, drinking down a glass as proof. She declined to say how much it cost them after salvaging the abandoned pipes, claiming she had no time to add up the expenses.
“For me, it’s priceless,” Moscoso said.