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Uruguay, a relatively wealthy South American nation, is currently grappling with a severe multi-year drought and soaring temperatures that have pushed the country to the brink of running dry. The situation has become so dire that residents are being forced to drink salty tap water, and wells are being drilled in the heart of the capital to access water reserves below ground. In response, President Luis Lacalle Pou has declared a “water emergency for the metropolitan area.”

Source: Al Jazeera English/YouTube

This water crisis in Uruguay serves as a stark warning of the vulnerability countries face in the face of drought, a problem that is expected to worsen in frequency and intensity due to climate change. The impact is evident as vital reservoirs, such as Canelón Grande and Paso Severino, have experienced drastic decreases in water levels, with some reservoirs facing complete depletion in the coming weeks.

To address the shortage, authorities have implemented drastic measures. Montevideo’s tap water, although salty and unpleasant to taste, is mixed with fresh water to stretch supplies. However, the saltiness remains an issue, and the tap water also contains high levels of chlorides, sodium, and trihalomethanes. While there is no significant health risk for most people, certain individuals with specific health conditions are advised to limit or avoid tap water consumption.

Sales of bottled water have surged in Montevideo and neighboring areas, leading to a sharp increase in plastic waste. However, not all residents can afford bottled water, forcing them to continue using tap water. To alleviate the financial burden, the government has introduced tax exemptions for bottled water.

The situation is particularly distressing for Uruguayans, as the country was the first in the world to declare access to water a fundamental right. Protests have erupted, highlighting the strong connection Uruguayans feel towards water and their demand for this basic right to be fulfilled.

The government has taken some steps to address the crisis, including the construction of a dam and a new water delivery system. Additionally, measures such as water usage restrictions and the deployment of tanker trucks to deliver water to critical institutions like hospitals have been implemented.

However, some critics argue that the government’s response has been insufficient, pointing to longstanding issues with water management and the need for better preparation for an increasingly unpredictable climate. They emphasize the importance of changing perceptions and increasing water availability through infrastructure development, efficiency improvements, and water reuse promotion.

As Uruguay faces an ongoing drought, hopes for rain remain high. It is an opportunity for the country to adapt, change its relationship with water, and implement sustainable solutions to mitigate the impact of future water crises.

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