Water distribution in the Nadine Heredia settlement, in the San Juan de Miraflores district, in Lima.Sebastián Castañeda
Lima, the second largest city in the world built on a desert after Cairo, will not have drinking water in 22 of its 43 districts starting this Friday. This is a cut scheduled by the Lima Drinking Water and Sewerage Service (Sedapal), but the population has been immersed in a spiral of concern due to two aspects: the way the state company announced the measure and the reminder of that Peru is a country where 10% (3.3 million) of its citizens do not have a public drinking water network and 23% (6.4 million) do not have sewage connections. Conditions that will worsen due to the imminent arrival of climatological events such as coastal El Niño.
With two tweets on September 24, Sedapal briefly reported that “it would soon interrupt the service in some districts of the capital” and that days later it would explain the contingency plan to “ensure the supply of users.” The poor accuracy of the messages set off alarms, unleashing chaos. The supervisory body, the National Superintendency of Sanitation Services (Sunass), and other institutions ordered Sedapal to explain the measure in detail. It was later learned that they had fallen short: it will not be “some districts” but rather a little more than half of Metropolitan Lima, affecting practically six million people. It will begin this Friday, October 6, and reconnection will take two days in most areas, but in four districts it will last up to 96 hours. The reason for the suspension is to renew pipes in the southern sector, a necessity for a city where 35% of its pipes are more than 40 years old.
“I found out about this cut like everyone else,” said Hania Pérez de Cuéllar, the Minister of Housing, Construction and Sanitation, an institution to which Sedapal is attached. The entity that manages the water of Lima and Callao had been headless since September 5, after the departure of its former president Héctor Piscoya, accused of making irregular appointments and having driven while intoxicated. His replacement, Jorge Gómez Reátegui, was appointed on Saturday, a week after the massive cut.
As happened with the rise in lemon prices, the authorities have tried to calm people down, but they have failed in the attempt. The most controversial statement has been that of the Minister of the Environment, Albina Ruiz: “Now we will bathe with a small cup, we will save water. Let’s look at it on the positive side, which is where I always want to walk.” Shortly after, faced with the discomfort of a sector of the population, Ruiz explained: “I brought it up, because it was part of my life (…) the meaning was to say: let’s make rational use of water. Let’s have these daily practices of reusing.”
According to Sunass, 635,000 Peruvians do not have drinking water in Lima and must purchase it from cisterns, paying a premium: an average of fifteen soles (four dollars) per cubic meter when Sedapal’s rate is around three soles (0.8 cents). . The logic is perverse: those who have the least are those who pay the most. This is the case of the residents of the Vencedores de la Rinconada human settlement, in San Juan de Miraflores, who are supplied with water once every eight days or the San Genaro II human settlement, in Chorrillos, who claim to have lacked the service for 30 years. . Added to this is that in some areas, such as the Señor de la Justicia neighborhood, in Ventanilla, extortions occur and there are mafias that demand a quota of 50 soles (13.5 dollars) per family to allow tanker trucks to go up to the hills to fill the tanks.
While citizens have taken to the streets to buy buckets, pans and plastic containers, the discussion in the political field has revolved around whether water should be privatized, an issue that spins in circles due to the precariousness of access to a good. indispensable. “You cannot privatize a right,” warned Congresswoman Sigrid Bazán, from the Democratic Change-Together for Peru group. Bazán has denounced that at the end of September a law was promulgated that has given legislative powers to the Executive Branch, among which is “allowing the use of the infrastructure (of sanitation services) to provide public services”, thereby The way is paved for private companies to market water.
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For Gonzalo Prialé, president of the Institute of Infrastructure, Institutionality and Management, a viable option is public-private partnerships. “The solution is not to privatize, but to hire long-term management and investments. The problem is not money, but management capacity,” he emphasizes. The Minister of Housing does not have a defined position on the matter. She has said that privatization is viable, but at the same time she has indicated that they are not thinking about it happening in the short term. “We will analyze in detail whether the solution is a privatization or a restructuring (of Sedapal),” she says.
Management is a critical point. According to the newspaper El Comercio, the Safe Water program for Lima and Callao (Paslc), whose purpose is to reduce the gaps in drinking water and sanitation, has only executed 36.1% of its budget so far in 2023. In the regions, the outlook is more compromised: on September 19, the Government declared an emergency in 544 districts of 14 departments due to imminent danger due to a water deficit as a result of the El Niño Phenomenon.
This Monday, Sedapal authorities met with 16 mayors of the 22 districts affected by the massive outage. The state company assures that it will enable 102 water distribution points in Metropolitan Lima and 100 tanker trucks to reduce the impact. Nor will it charge for the hours in which the capital will run out of water.
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