Thousands of Puerto Rican households limited to water twice weekly as drought continues
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – As one of the worst droughts in Puerto Rico’s history drags on, the government has ramped-up water rationing, limiting hundreds of thousands of households in the San Juan metropolitan area and the North Coast to only two days of water a week.
On Sunday, Alberto Lázaro, president of Puerto Rico’s Water and Sewage Authority, announced the third phase of a water rationing plan that began last May. Beginning this Thursday, families will have potable water either on Tuesdays and Saturdays, or on Wednesdays and Sundays, depending on where they live.
About one-third of Puerto Ricans currently suffer extreme water rationing. Rainfall deficits have been mounting since 2013, drying up rivers and streams at a record-breaking pace and making the possibility of fires a genuine concern.
In rural areas, cattle are starving and crops are parched. Budget cuts have severely impacted government programmes that could have reduced the severity of the blow to small and medium-sized farms, moreover, according to a World Socialist report.
Hundreds of schools have been placed on short hours, and parents have been asked to send their children to school with bottles of water in their lunchboxes. Over three hundred schools in metropolitan San Juan are being supplied emergency water, some of them by fire departments in their vicinity.
Puerto Rico, along with several other Caribbean islands, is facing an uncertain future made worse by climate change and a precarious economic dependence on tourism.
In the short term, with a building El Nino reportedly threatening continued dry conditions across the Caribbean and Central America, the next several months don’t provide much hope for a turnaround in terms of rainfall.
Back in May, which is traditionally one of the wettest months of the year in Puerto Rico, Governor Alejandro Padilla declared a state of emergency over the drought.
According to studies carried out by experts at the University of Puerto Rico, the water shortage in the US island territory is just as much due to decades of disinvestment in the repair of aging pipelines and other infrastructural issues as it is to the weather.
Water rationing is thought likely to worsen the island’s fragile economy, currently mired in an eight-year recession and staggering under a US$73 billion debt burden, moreover.
The announcement of the new extreme measures took place two days after Luis F. Cruz Batista, who heads Puerto Rico’s Office of Management and Budget, announced that he was placing Puerto Rico’s General Fund on “rations,” according to World Socialist.
“I must shut-off the spigot,” Cruz said. “This works the same as with water rationing. We could leave the faucet open and fund the government’s current budget, until next month, when there will be no more liquidity. Therefore, as a preventive measure, I have to freeze all funds, and ration money quarter by quarter.”
Cruz and Lázaro say that their rationing will apply to rich and poor alike.
“This is the same as with the drought, rationing affects the rich, the middle class and the poor; it affects children, adults and seniors,” Cruz said.
The island’s water rates have increased substantially since 2013. This has impacted the nearly half of the population whose living standards continue to fall, from rising prices for food, fuel and electricity and from a large increase in the sales tax (from seven to 11 percent) and the new value added tax (VAT) to be introduced in October.
When it comes to water, wealthier households, condominiums and hotels have storage tanks that see them through the days without water. Poor households, at best, have one or two 55-gallon drums to store water.
The fiscal rationing, meanwhile, is in line with austerity measures being demanded by Puerto Rico’s creditors, who continue to insist that Puerto Rico’s $73 billion debt requires “painful” measures that at some future time will supposedly produce economic growth.