Caracas district installs well as water shortages hit Venezuela amid pandemic

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CARACAS (Reuters) - A district of Venezuela’s capital Caracas on Tuesday installed a new well to supply water to dozens of apartment buildings, as widespread shortages in the crisis-stricken country complicate hand-washing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Water shortages have long affected the municipality of Chacao in eastern Caracas - as well as other areas across the South American country - due to years of underinvestment, lack of maintenance and a shortage of qualified personnel amid an economic collapse that has deprived governments of funds.

That has made it difficult for Venezuelans to comply with their own government’s public health guidance to regularly wash hands to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Venezuelans with means have for years responded to water shortages by privately financing underground wells to serve their apartment buildings or houses. The Chacao well, built at a cost to the municipality of some $30,000 will serve around 15,000 people in 42 buildings.

“In a normal country this would not be necessary, but here we are doing it because Chacao does not give up,” Gustavo Duque, Chacao’s mayor, told a crowd of around 100 residents who had come to witness the inauguration of the well.

Chacao has built a total of nine wells in the past three years. The wells draw water from underground sources that would normally flow into the Guaire river, which cuts through Caracas.

Maria Cortez, a 69-year-old Chacao resident who had come to witness the inauguration, said her building had only supplied residents with water once a week once shortages began to worsen in 2014. Her building was among the first to benefit when Chacao began building municipal wells in 2018.

“Now, we always have [water],” Cortez said.

Reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Matthew Lewis