Authorities have declared water rationing in La Paz to be a permanent measure as the drought in Bolivia worsens.
The three main dams that supply water to the city are almost dry.
The main Ajuan Khota dam is at 1 percent of capacity, while the other two dams are averaging 8 percent capacity.
This has led to water cuts in some neighbourhoods for the first time. The Corque municipality has been particularly severely hit, according to a report from the Pan American Health Organization, and 70 percent of the population lack drinking water.
Across La Paz, residents have seen their taps dry up for 60 hours at a time, followed by 12-hour periods to replenish their supplies.
Bolivia’s President Evo Morales sacked his top state water authorities and apologised for extended water rationing in the capital.
Bnamericas.com, ther Latin American news site, is reporting that Morales replaced the head of state water company EPSAS and the director of state water authority AAPS for failing to warn the government about the lack of water supply in La Paz.
Morales said that he has ordered a group of technicians to come up with solutions to the city’s water shortage. There are plans to install 300m of piping to pump water from the nearby Kairuni River. However, it is thought that this will only cover a quarter of the city’s needs.
The neighbouring city of El Alto is also concerned about the lack of water. A week of protests by frustrated residents is escalating tensions.
Resident Virginia Lopez told Reuters news agency that although the bills are high, the water is of poor quality.
“The water is dirty, yellow, and now the dirty water is what we have to drink,” she said.
On Thursday, leaders of the Federation of Town Councils – Fejuve – held officials and water authorities hostage after the Minister of Environment and Water, Alexandra Moreira, failed to turn up for a meeting to report on a water supply project in the city of El Alto.
Police were eventually called to release the hostages, including Ruben Mendez, Bolivia’s deputy water minister.
Riots over water have broken out in Bolivia before. Those which took place in 2004 resulted in the control of water being handed over from private hands to the state.
The current drought in Bolivia comes despite the recent El Nino event, which caused major flooding and landslides in the region in February and March.
The concern is that the current weak La Nina conditions in the Pacific will trigger a drought in the country. The situation in La Paz is already critical, but could get worse if the rainy season does not start as scheduled at the end of this month.
Additional reporting by Steff Gaulter.