Climate warning
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Luis Lacalle Pou

Climate warning

Montevideo's freshwater crisis, one example in a broader global water crisis

In 2004, Uruguay was the first country in the world to enshrine the right to clean drinking water in its constitution so isn't it ironic that its capital Montevideo has been grappling with a freshwater crisis of unprecedented proportion for several months? The worst drought in over 70 years, exacerbated by the climate crisis and the impact of industry, has left the country and its capital dry and desperate.
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The reservoir serving Montevideo is rapidly depleting, prompting officials to declare a water emergency. Residents are walking across the reservoir's dry basin, and authorities have resorted to adding brackish estuary water to tap supplies, issuing warnings to pregnant women and vulnerable individuals against drinking it.
The water that flows from the residents' taps now tastes of salt and smells of chemicals, rendering it undrinkable. Those who can afford it rely on bottled water for all their needs, contributing to plastic waste. Washing machines, dishwashers, and electric water heaters are failing due to the high sodium content in the water. Even showering is a health concern, as the steam contains potentially carcinogenic compounds. The crisis has hit the poorest neighborhoods the hardest, where residents have no choice but to drink the contaminated tap water, leading to complaints of health issues such as belly pain and diarrhoea.
The climate plays a significant role, but it's not the only culprit. The impact of export-led and water-intensive agriculture and forestry long warned to be unsustainable, has strained water resources. A large portion of Uruguay's water is diverted to support exports of rice, wood pulp, soybeans, and meat, limiting the amount allocated to drinking supplies. The construction of a new Google data center, expected to consume vast amounts of water, has also raised concerns.

Despite the constitutional changes in 2004 that improved water management, successive governments have not been investing adequately in infrastructure maintenance and long-term planning. Opposition from big business and complacency contributed to the lack of a sustainable strategy. The government's lack of preparedness is evident with no plan in place to handle the crisis, which could extend until October. Water rationing has become a reality as well as offering subsidies for bottled water to some, but failing to address the root cause of the crisis, leaving citizens anxious and uncertain about the future.
Uruguay's experience should serve as a lesson for other nations facing or soon-to-face water crises, the climate crisis is here and we should prepare for it.

Do you agree?

42 more agrees trigger social media ads

  • Christina Carlmark

    42 w


    • Annett Michuki..

      42 w

      so shameful diverting water to farming and citizens lack clean a country that pioneered rights to clean drinking water in constitution they should have long term plans for such crisis.

      • Munene Mugambi

        43 w

        Speaking of clean water rights, why isn't that the norm in all countries?

        • Sarah Chabane

          43 w

          @munene_mugambi yes, it feels like it should be written in all constitutions

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