Dangerous Water Crisis: Uruguay Struggles with Severe Drought and Contaminated Supply

news 02-Jul-2023 Europe

Dangerous Water Shortage

Uruguay is experiencing one of the worst droughts in its history. There is hardly any drinking water left. The remaining freshwater is being mixed with salty seawater, posing a risk to health. Discontent among the population is growing. Noise in the Park. Where children usually play, families picnic, and balls fly, heavy machinery now stands. Water drilling is taking place in the heart of the capital, Montevideo. The situation is dire since President Luis Alberto Lacalle Pou declared a water emergency for the Greater Montevideo area in mid-June.

Uruguay is facing one of the worst droughts in living memory. It hasn't rained significantly in large parts of the country for months. As a result, there is a shortage of drinking water. Drinking water is scarce and unhealthy.

The quality of the water supplied to 60 percent of the population no longer meets the desired parameters for drinking water, explained former Uruguayan Minister of the Environment, Carlos Colacce. "Therefore, the water can no longer be classified as drinking water."

Most affected are the approximately 1.3 million people in the Greater Montevideo area. The water coming out of their taps is now a murky broth with high sodium and chloride content. The little remaining freshwater is being mixed with salty seawater from the Rio de la Plata. Drinking this water in the long term poses a significant health risk, especially for people with kidney problems and hypertension.

Growing discontent

Gustavo Dominzain's mother is 85 years old, and her health condition is quite critical. "She lives on the third floor, and she has to climb stairs. She cannot drink the water from the tap," her son says. Those who can afford it buy bottled drinking water. The government has suspended taxes on it.

The situation is difficult, and discontent among the population is growing. "It's not a drought; we are being robbed," shout protesters on the streets. They believe that mismanagement is responsible for the water emergency. Vendor Marcelo Fernandez is convinced that "there are many companies that use drinking water for industrial purposes and leave us without water."

Waiting for rain

Valeria Arballo, on behalf of the national water authority, oversees the drilling operations in the city park. She looks at the water-bearing layers underground in Montevideo. But her gaze often turns to the cloudless sky above. "If it rains, it's naturally a relief for everyone, not just for the groundwater sector. But you always have to have a Plan B. And here we are, with Plan B, waiting for it to rain."

Rain is not expected in the foreseeable future. The situation threatens to worsen, warns former Minister of the Environment, Carlos Colacce. The freshwater reservoirs are almost empty, and the country's rivers are also carrying less and less water. The only option left is the Rio de la Plata with its high salt content.

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