Water treatment and reuse: A viable answer to shortages in Venezuela?

venezuela water treatment
Although some have access to potable water for as little as 1/3 of a day, thousands of users find themselves without water service for weeks. Photo credit: Carlos Becerra / Bloomberg

Water shortages are a fact of life for many Venezuelans. Some part of the population only had access to that essential resource 57.2 hours per week on average in the first half of 2022. Those shortfalls are forcing experts to try and come up with viable solutions, whether that entails repairs to water distribution systems or water treatment and reuse of wastewater.

While the non-governmental organisation Monitor Ciudad provides the statistics mentioned above, even that estimate is too optimistic. Although some have access to potable water for as little as 1/3 of a day, thousands of users find themselves without water service for weeks. Access to water is also very inequitable in Venezuela, since more affluent people enjoy virtually uninterrupted service.

Water Treatment to Resolve the Crisis?

Douglas Sanchez, a professor of ecology, environment and sustainability at Caracas’ Andres Bello Catholic University (UCAB), believes that the problem is not a matter of “scarcity” but of resource management and distribution, as well as water treatment infrastructure. Sanchez says wastewater treatment not only could alleviate some of the problems but also is a recommended sustainability practice.

“If we can meet all the requirements in terms of the population’s basic needs, we’ll be on the road to being a sustainable society. And part of sustainability is covering basic needs like sanitation,” — Douglas Sanchez, professor at Caracas’ Andres Bello Catholic University.

The use of potable water in Venezuela is far from reasonable, according to some estimates. It is not only being used for human consumption but also for activities such as toilet-flushing and car-washing. This is significantly costly as while the demand for potable water is so high, if that water is used for activities that do not necessarily require purified water,the expenditure is unaffordably high. Nevertheless, experts agree that wastewater treatment is a pricey process due to the different steps involved. Because the plants require constant maintenance and qualified personnel to operate the infrastructure, the process of modernisation of the wastewater treatment system can take a long time.

Water Situation in Venezuela

Venezuela does have treatment plants that fit the bill, but they either have not been managed adequately or have been neglected. Investment is also needed in the water service distribution system. Some pipes are more than 50 years old and are susceptible to cracks and leaks. Many pipes also are unable to withstand the pressure that comes with numerous service stops and starts.

Douglas Sanchez says that it will be costly to repair existing infrastructure or build it anew because imported parts are very expensive. He believes that a lot of money could have been saved through regular maintenance and gradual investments over time. Looking ahead, the UCAB professor said that part of the solution lies in educating society on the importance of water conservation, noting that ordinary people can even contribute to wastewater treatment on a small scale.

“There are different stages: educating the population, repairing what currently exists, making new investments and (ensuring that) industries comply with the law in terms of carrying out their own wastewater treatment,” — Sanchez added.

Credit: EFE