Venezuelans take extraordinary steps to beat water shortage

A woman untangles an electrical cord and a hose in order to pump from a large container water provided by a government tanker truck, in the Petare slu...
Men, equipped with inner tubes, wade through an abandoned highway tunnel with the aid of a safety line as they work to repair a self-created water sys...
A car drives past hauling a plastic water tank on it's rooftop, in the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, June 5, 2020. An estimated 8...
A man, wearing a protective face mask, pushes a dolly filled with empty containers, as he and a child go in search of water in Caracas, Venezuela, Sat...
Buckets, some of them filled with water provided by a government tanker truck, are stored in the living room of a house in the Petare neighborhood of ...
A residents fills a container with water provided by a government tanker truck in the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, June 15, 2020...
A man pushes a stripped down baby stroller with containers he filled with water that he collected from a street faucet, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturda...
A child ascends a flight of stairs with an empty container to be filled with water provided by a government tanker truck in the Petare neighborhood of...
A man, wearing a protective face mask, pushes a dolly holding a container filled with water he collected from a street faucet, in Caracas, Venezuela, ...
A woman wearing a protective face mask, turns around as she is called by a friend, in the Baralt highway tunnel in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, June 7,...
A boy jumps into a drainage ditch which channels water from an abandoned highway tunnel in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, June 6, 2020. Workers had lon...
A woman, wearing a protective face mask, pushes a dolly of containers filled with water, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, June 20, 2020. An estimated ...
A worker controls a water hose from a government tanker truck to distribute water to residents in the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Thurs...
La Lira neighborhood residents protest the lack of public services including water, in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, May 21, 2020. An estimated 86% of...
A man cleans the inside of a water container situated on the roof of his home in the San Agustin neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, May 17, 2...
A child wearing a protective face mask rides her scooter in the bed of a water fountain of Los Proceres promenade in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, April...
A woman scrubs her protective face masks with runoff water from the Avila mountain in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, June 21, 2020. Venezuela's water cri...

A woman untangles an electrical cord and a hose in order to pump from a large container water provided by a government tanker truck, in the Petare slu...

Men, equipped with inner tubes, wade through an abandoned highway tunnel with the aid of a safety line as they work to repair a self-created water sys...

A car drives past hauling a plastic water tank on it's rooftop, in the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, June 5, 2020. An estimated 8...

A man, wearing a protective face mask, pushes a dolly filled with empty containers, as he and a child go in search of water in Caracas, Venezuela, Sat...

Buckets, some of them filled with water provided by a government tanker truck, are stored in the living room of a house in the Petare neighborhood of ...

A residents fills a container with water provided by a government tanker truck in the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, June 15, 2020...

A man pushes a stripped down baby stroller with containers he filled with water that he collected from a street faucet, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturda...

A child ascends a flight of stairs with an empty container to be filled with water provided by a government tanker truck in the Petare neighborhood of...

A man, wearing a protective face mask, pushes a dolly holding a container filled with water he collected from a street faucet, in Caracas, Venezuela, ...

A woman wearing a protective face mask, turns around as she is called by a friend, in the Baralt highway tunnel in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, June 7,...

A boy jumps into a drainage ditch which channels water from an abandoned highway tunnel in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, June 6, 2020. Workers had lon...

A woman, wearing a protective face mask, pushes a dolly of containers filled with water, in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday, June 20, 2020. An estimated ...

A worker controls a water hose from a government tanker truck to distribute water to residents in the Petare neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Thurs...

La Lira neighborhood residents protest the lack of public services including water, in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, May 21, 2020. An estimated 86% of...

A man cleans the inside of a water container situated on the roof of his home in the San Agustin neighborhood of Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, May 17, 2...

A child wearing a protective face mask rides her scooter in the bed of a water fountain of Los Proceres promenade in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, April...

A woman scrubs her protective face masks with runoff water from the Avila mountain in Caracas, Venezuela, Sunday, June 21, 2020. Venezuela's water cri...

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela’s economic collapse has left most homes without reliable running water, so Caracas resident Iraima Moscoso saw water pooling inside an abandoned construction site as the end of suffering for thousands of her poor neighbors.

Workers had long ago stopped building a nearby highway tunnel through the mountain above them. Yet, spring water continued to collect inside the viaduct and then stream past their homes, wasted. The construction firm had also left behind coils of tube.

Moscoso, 59, rallied her neighbors to salvage the materials and build their own system, tapping into the tunnel’s vast lagoon and running the waterline to their homes. Today, they’re free of the city’s crumbling service and enjoy what many in Venezuela consider a luxury.

“Everybody here has water,” said Moscoso, seated on the stairs of her hillside neighborhood of cinder block homes. “We all benefit.”

Venezuela's water crisis is nothing new, but it's started driving residents to extraordinary measures — banding together to rig their own water systems and even hand dig shallow wells at home. Water today is even more important as a way to protect against the pandemic.

Critics of the socialist government blame chronic infrastructure failures on years of corruption and mismanagement that have also left the electrical grid fragile and destroyed Venezuela's once-thriving oil industry.

An estimated 86% of Venezuelans reported unreliable water service, including 11% who have none at all, according to an April survey of 4,500 residents by the non-profit Venezuelan Observatory of Public Services.

María Eugenia Gil, of the Caracas-based non-profit Clear Water Foundation, said residents have no other choice than to hunt for water, breaking a nationwide quarantine that was imposed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus. They're exposing themselves to illness or possibly spreading the virus to others, she said.

“They don’t have an alternative,” Gil said. “You can’t stay at home locked inside if you don’t have water.”

President Nicolás Maduro’s government has accused political foes of sabotaging pump stations, and recently celebrated the purchase of a fleet of 1,000 “super tanker” trucks from China to deliver water to residents.

That's no solution for Arcangel Medina, 66, who recruited young men in his neighborhood to dig for five days, striking water at a depth of four meters (13 feet). He bought $200 worth of pipes and an electric pump so he can share the water with other homes.

“We went four months without running water,” said Medina, complaining that when city lines used to flow every two weeks, dirty water spewed from his faucets.

“It’s a blessing,” said Medina, one of a dozen residents in his sector who took the drastic measure. He next had to figure out how to get rid of the dirt pile on the street in front of his home.

Moscoso, who proudly organized her neighbors to build their own system, estimates that 5,000 people in her neighborhood now have water. It started flowing in May, said Moscoso, who works at the mayor's office.

Their above-ground water line starts at the abandoned tunnel’s mouth and runs 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) - under a highway, strung from power poles over a city street and down to their homes.

Four other neighborhoods have run similar lines from the tunnel.

Moscoso said the water is perfectly safe, drinking down a glass as proof. She declined to say how much it cost them after salvaging the abandoned pipes, claiming she hasn’t had time to add up the expenses.

“For me it’s priceless,” Moscoso said.

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Scott Smith on Twitter: @ScottSmithAP