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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 May, 2004, 06:23 GMT 07:23 UK
Andes drought leaves Lima thirsty
By Hannah Hennessy
BBC News, Lima

Lima street scene
The water restrictions in Lima affect eight million people
Peru has begun rationing water to its capital, Lima, following one of the worst droughts in a decade.

Millions of people in the coastal city are being left without water supplies for twelve hours every night between 1700 and 0500.

The restrictions are likely to last through Peru's winter until December.

Peru's state-run water company, Sedapal, was forced to restrict its supplies because of exceptionally low rainfall in the Andes.

Lima is on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, but the coastal strip is desert and the city's eight million people get their water from the mountains over 160km (100 miles) away.

Sedapal President Jorge Villacorta said water levels in the high altitude reservoirs had fallen to 165 million cubic metres, 120 million less than in a normal year.

Mr Villacorta said people in Lima currently used twice as much as the World Health Organisation deems necessary for personal use.

But he knows it is not just up to the city's population to reduce the amount of water they use.

Sedapal also needs to reduce its so-called non-revenue water - the 38% of its supplies that is lost mainly through leakage and illegal use.

Poor worst affected

"People need to lose less and leak less water in their houses," Mr Villacorta said.

"We need a hundred more wells and we need to build our famous new reservoir project, called Marcapomacocha 2, which will bring an additional 6.5 cubic metres a second. So we need to consolidate supply and optimise demand."

Around five million people in Lima have cisterns and tanks. This means they usually have an uninterrupted supply of water, even when the main taps are turned off during the night, when demand for water is at its lowest.

That still leaves three million people without water for twelve hours at a time. The majority of them are the city's poor.

"It's very bad for us until December. The government needs to provide us with a solution," said one resident.

"When we've got water, we mostly use it to bathe for hygiene purposes, but without water, what are we supposed to do?" asked another.

Mr Villacorta says Sedapal is planning to equip Lima with hundreds of new wells and build another reservoir to catch the rains further up the mountains.

But with more droughts predicted for next year, Lima's residents could be in for another testing time.

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