Uruguay is out of water due to a prolonged drought and extreme heat.
The situation has gotten so severe that locals are now being forced to drink salty tap water, and workmen are drilling wells in the capital to get the underground water. On Monday, President Luis Lacalle Pou proclaimed a “water emergency for the metropolitan area.”
This relatively wealthy country in South America, which has always regarded access to water as a human right, is feeling the shockwaves caused by the current crisis. The vulnerability of nations to drought, which is predicted to increase in frequency and severity as climate change quickens, is also signalled by this.
The effects are obvious in Uruguay. More than a million people typically receive water from Canelón Grande in Montevideo, the nation’s capital, but it has been reduced to a muddy field that citizens can now cross on foot.
Another one, the Paso Severino, which typically provides fresh water to 60% of the nation’s population, has experienced the biggest drop in water levels in history. According to local media estimates, the water levels may entirely run out in the first few days of July.
As a result of shortages, authorities have been compelled to implement a number of extreme measures.
Salt in the drinking water
According to Carlos Santos, an anthropology instructor at the University of the Republic in Uruguay and a member of the National Commission for the Defence of Water and Life (CNDAV), Montevideo’s tap water is essentially unfit for human consumption.
He told CNN that the saltiness made it intolerable. Even animals avoid it.
After requesting an exemption from the standard restrictions on drinking water salinity, the public water provider, OSE, has been blending salty water from the Ro de la Plata estuary with fresh water from the Paso Severino reservoir for weeks in order to extend supplies.
In addition to tasting salty, Uruguayan authorities claim that the tap water contains significant amounts of trihalomethanes, sodium, and chlorides.
In a news conference in May, the minister of public health, Karina Rando, stated that there is no health danger for the majority of people, but she cautioned individuals with specific medical conditions, such as hypertension and kidney illness, as well as those who are pregnant, to limit or even avoid tap water entirely.
On Monday, Lacalle Pou stated that “the water supply is guaranteed,” but added that the amount of salt and chloride in the water will “surely rise,” making it unfit for human consumption under sanitary standards.
According to a study by the research firm Scanntech Uruguay, sales of bottled water have risen in Montevideo and the nearby Canelones province, posting a 224% increase for the month of May compared to the same period last year.
Due to this, retail companies are finding it difficult to meet demand, which has increased the amount of plastic garbage.
However, many people in Montevideo and the surrounding area are unable to afford to purchase bottled water and are therefore compelled to continue drinking from the taps, according to Santos.
As part of its water emergency measures, the government has implemented tax exemptions for bottled water in an effort to lessen some of the financial strain.