Venezuela

Clean water can save lives in Venezuela

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Rui Concalve is a 26- year-old Venezuelan who runs what used to be the hotel "Alemán" located in front of the Macuto beach in the State of Vargas. While showing what is left of the two-storey building that could host up to 40 tourists, he expresses extreme concern, for most of the water system throughout the severely damaged state of Vargas has collapsed. " Our pipelines were already old and the drainage system very bad. But now, we simply have no water," says Rui.
During the last fifteen days the local population has survived on bottled water distributed by people coming from the Venezuelan capital Caracas, and volunteer groups such as the Red Cross.

The Venezuelan health authorities have launched an alert, fearing outbreaks of epidemics, and has urged all government and non-governmental organisations to make water a priority to assist the homeless, and those who may still have a home but no basic services nearby.

Slowly, more and more water trucks are to be seen parked along the roads to Vargas. They arrive in an ad-hoc way, distributing water to the affected population.

But it is not enough. "People have started washing wherever they find a bit of water. They are not aware of the danger, they are desperate for water, we are all desperate for water," says Dr. Elsa Gomez, a doctor from the town of Macuto who has been assisting the population since day one in a tiny dispensary located in the town hall. She looks exhausted and confused. Just like everybody else who is trying to bring assistance to the population in this area.

"Four days ago we launched an appeal for water trucks through all the local radio stations seeking help from the private sector. Most trucks are already being used, but we have now begun water distribution with three 18,000 litre trucks in all the communities along the coastline," explains Mr. Jurgen Hepe, German Red Cross co-ordinator in Venezuela. The Society is also purchasing over 50 water tanks with a 6,000 litre capacity.

However, there are still communities isolated that no water trucks can reach. "We are trying to overcome a critical distribution problem by decentralising the water distribution points as much as possible," says Mr. David Meneses, President of the Vargas local Red Cross branch..

Meanwhile efforts are being made to re-establish the water system for an estimated 120,000 persons still living in the State of Vargas. In the coming days it is hoped to be able to provide drinking water to 65% of these people through a 15-kilometre pipeline from a dam near Puerto Maya.

The French, German and Spanish Red Cross Societies have also initiated in-depth needs assessment in the affected states of Miranda, Falcon and Vargas.