Diarrhea and vomiting have become a part of life for countless Venezuelans who have no choice but to drink water contaminated with bacteria and fecal matter, according to a new report by the New York Times.
Five years after the Venezuelan economy began its headlong dive, the country’s infrastructure is falling apart, including its network of once state-of-the-art water purification plants and pipes, the Times reports.
Whereas citizens could once rely on the government to pump clean water into their homes, the water emerging from many taps these days is rife with bacteria that causes waterborne illnesses.
Because the government no longer provides data on water quality, the Times commissioned researchers from the Universidad Central de Venezuela to conduct water quality tests throughout the country.
The researchers estimate that a million people are likely drinking contaminated water. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates that only 30% of the country has access to clean drinking water, the Times notes. This puts the majority of Venezuelans at a high risk for bacterial and viral infections, and especially endangers young children and the elderly.
The infant mortality rate in Venezuela, for instance, is six times higher than it was 15 years ago.
This water crisis has led families to take drastic measures, including going to nearby creeks and filling up jugs with untreated water. Wealthy citizens often buy water from vendors or trucks, but this water is likely to be contaminated as well, according to the Times.
Venezuela is facing a much larger humanitarian crisis. More than 4 million people have fled the country in recent years. Human rights violations such as extra-judicial killings, torture, and excessive use of force following "resistance to authority" have been reported. Astronomical inflation has left many hardly able to afford food. Schools are without teachers, hospitals struggle to stay open, and blackouts are a regular occurrence.
The lack of clean water stems from government incompetence, according to the Times’ report. Water plants and pipelines weren’t repaired and updated over the years, and purifying agents like chlorine have reportedly become scarce.
Without urgent intervention, millions of people will continue to put themselves at risk every time they take a sip of water.
“When I drink the water, I feel repulsion,” Yarelis Pinto, a mother of five who gets water piped in from a nearby hill, told the Times. “[But] we have to consume what we have.”