In the midst of a relentless drought wreaking havoc in South America, the urban areas of Uruguay and Argentina are grappling with a peculiar challenge. Daily publication El Pais brings attention to the issue, reporting that tap water in these regions has acquired an unexpected brackish taste, intensifying the already severe water scarcity crisis.
According to the latest data unveiled on the South American Drought Information System (SISSA) website, the situation is particularly dire in the southwestern region of Uruguay and the northeastern border zones of Argentina. These areas have been classified as experiencing either “severe drought” (Stage 3) or “extreme drought” (Stage 4) on a scale ranging from 0 to 5, highlighting the severity of the water shortage that has persisted from April through June.
Notably, picturesque locations renowned for their expansive grasslands, such as Salto in Argentina and the port city of Colonia del Sacramento in Uruguay, find themselves in the throes of an unparalleled drought, classified as an “exceptional drought” (Stage 5) according to the analysis.
During a recent press conference, Alvaro Delgado, Secretary to the Presidency of Uruguay, expressed the gravity of the situation, stating, “Our nation is currently facing its worst water scarcity crisis in the past 74 years.”
The scarcity of water has also affected densely populated regions, including the capital cities of Buenos Aires and Montevideo, where pockets of the population are experiencing a real and concerning water shortage.
Uruguay faces an additional predicament, with the metropolitan area witnessing an alarming depletion of water supplies from the Paso Severino reservoir. To address this, the Uruguayan Water Authority has resorted to blending saltwater from river estuaries with freshwater supplies, resulting in a distinct salinity taste.
While authorities assert that the water remains drinkable, media reports have raised concerns about potential health implications, especially for vulnerable groups such as pregnant women, the elderly, and patients, fueling public discontent and demand for immediate solutions.
The Director of the Uruguayan Water Authority, Raúl Montero, offered an explanation, stating, “The salinity level in tap water measures 350 mg per liter, which falls below the permissible limit of 440 mg.” However, these assurances have done little to quell the dissatisfaction among water users.
In response to the crisis, the Uruguayan government swiftly announced a series of emergency measures. These include providing alternative water sources or subsidizing water costs for households with children under the age of two and patients, constructing temporary reservoirs to alleviate the shortage, and implementing restrictions on non-essential water consumption such as car washing.
Meanwhile, the agricultural sector in Argentina is feeling the strain, with a noticeable decrease in milk production and a sharp decline in farm machinery sales, directly impacting the livelihoods of farmers.
Jorge García Buis, a dairy farmer from Buenos Aires Province, expressed his concerns, stating to La Nación, “The low rainfall during March and April has created an extremely challenging situation for milk production, and the overall quality of hay has significantly deteriorated.”
Both Uruguay and Argentina are anxiously awaiting news of substantial rainfall, but meteorological agencies have delivered an unfortunate forecast, predicting a continued lack of precipitation capable of alleviating the water scarcity crisis in the near future.