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News > Latin America

Colombia: North Suffers Water Shortages But Bills Keep Coming

  • "We open the faucet and there is no water, but the receipt arrives and we have to pay," said Diego Bustamante. | Photo: Reuters

Published 11 July 2018

"We open the faucet and there is no water, but the receipt arrives and we have to pay," said Diego Bustamante. "We don't understand."

Severe water shortages are being reported in a working-class neighborhood in Santa Marta, northern Colombia, where residents say they are being billed for water supplies that never arrive. 

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The Santa Cruz neighborhood in Santa Marta, capital of Colombia's Magdalena department, has been in desperate need of reliable drinking water for the past three months. Without the seasonal rains, the problem is only getting worse.

The problem began five years ago, but has grown more acute in recent months.

"At home we take turns to take care of the motor pump and collect the water in the places where it arrives. We cannot sleep and much less rest at weekends," Laura Acosta told El Tiempo.

The extreme shortages not only threaten residents' quality of life, but also relationships between neighbors. Water only arrives on specific days to two isolated points, prompting disputes among families.

"The police have had to intervene on several occasions to control the situation. Everything happens in the midst of the frustration and impotence that grips us," Antonio Vargas said.

One cause is the fact the city gets water from the Piedra and Manzanares rivers, which are drying up in this increasingly drought-ridden, arid region, leaving the city far short of the water it needs. The city needs 2,453 liters of water per second, but is only processing 1,190 liters, leaving a deficit of 1,263 liters.

Residents are having to resort to ever-more-desperate measures to access any water at all: "First we loaded containers, but as the water grew more scarce, we had to drive in in trucks to transport more containers," Acosta said.

Families are also being forced to purchase meters of hose to connect to delivery spots that run directly to their homes so as to save time and energy.

Mayor Rafael Martínez said in May that when the city's previous water management firm, Metroagua, left, many of the problems went away, too. "Metroagua left and with it many of the water and sewage problems left the city," said the mayor.

However, the new water and sewer management company, Veolia, has been incapable of providing the water residents pay it for.

Veolia's water management plans have been insufficient. It has been unable to provide water to more than 200 districts of the city, the popular neighborhoods outside the tourist center, but are still expected to pay.

"We open the faucet and there is no water, but the receipt arrives and we have to pay," said Diego Bustamante. "We don't understand how they can charge for a service that is not being provided."

"One calls Veolia's phone numbers to request a solution and they say they'll deliver water, but never come," said Freddy Gomez, who lives in Santa Cruz.

Civic leader Luis Gonzalo Euse said: "We want a definitive solution, it is not fair to live this way. Like other neighborhoods we deserve to receive water in our homes because just like others, we pay for the service."

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