Over one million Uruguay’s 3.5 million citizens do not have access to potable water from their taps, and experts warn that this scenario will likely persist for the next few months.
Some people had forecast the problem many years in advance, and they did so by pointing out the fragility of the sole reservoir that supplied water to the urban region that surrounds Montevideo, the capital.
Uruguay is a high-income country when compared to other Latin American nations, and the country has always believed that it possesses a plentiful supply of water resources. Those who expressed concern about dwindling resources were labelled as pessimists, and investments were put on hold as a result.
Due to the fact that the reservoir of fresh water has been nearly depleted by drought for the past three years in a row, the state-operated water supplier, OSE, has been gradually injecting brackish water from the Rio de la Plata estuary since the beginning of the year in order to prevent water shortages.
The mixture had already reached the maximum amounts of sodium and chlorides authorized by the World Health Organization (WHO) by the beginning of May, and now it has double those levels, giving the water an offensive taste and raising questions about the potential implications it could have on health.
The authorities say that the chemicals do not necessarily represent a harm to the majority of people’s health and that the only effect they have is on the taste and smell of the water.
However, there have been conflicting statements about the water’s safety for the general public. Certain vulnerable populations, such as babies, pregnant women, and individuals with health concerns, have been warned against drinking the water, but claims about the water’s safety for the general population have been inconsistent.
The dean of the chemistry faculty at the Universidad de la Republica, Alvaro Mombr, stated that he would not recommend its consumption at this time; however, his colleague Arturo Briva, who is the dean of the medicine faculty, stated that the water was still considered safe but warned that “as levels rise and time of exposure increases, some repercussions may appear.”
It has been recommended by specialists to take shorter showers, and there has been an increase in the number of reports of damage to water heaters.
According to a survey conducted in May, around fifty per cent of residents in the impacted area had cut back on how much tap water they consumed, and thirty-five per cent had stopped drinking it entirely.
The government has decided not to charge bottled water and has also made the announcement that it will give away free bottled water to more than half a million individuals.
A meteorologist by the name of Mario Bidegain stated that determining the amount of rain that would be required to return things to their normal state was a challenging undertaking. Even if there are big rains as predicted by the beginning of September, the authorities will still have to determine whether or not to bring the levels of sodium and chloride back down to normal or whether or not to keep some kind of mix in order to save supplies in the event that the drought continues. Bidegain predicted that we will most likely emerge from this situation gradually.
Many people in Uruguay believe that the administration of President Luis Lacalle Pou, which is considered to be of the centre-right and was lauded both in the country and internationally for its handling of the Covid-19 outbreak, has been too tardy in its response to this problem and has placed too much trust in the possibility of autumn rains.
The current administration asserts that past administrations, especially the left-leaning Broad Front alliance that was in power from 2005 to 2020, did not spend sufficiently on the nation’s water infrastructure.
Before the crisis, the administration of Lacalle Pou had revealed plans for a project that would cost 210 million dollars to extract potable water from the Rio de la Plata. However, they had neglected to mention another project that the previous government had planned but had not begun.
Former President José Mujica, who served in that role from 2010 until 2015, has accepted some degree of responsibility. When asked about the problem, he responded by saying that everyone had fallen asleep.
“The response that was always given whenever anyone brought up these issues was that this has never happened,” he added.