Josefa Garcia Rojas walks through the eerily barren streets of Potosi, a small Venezuelan city where she lived most of her 84 years, amid the skeletons of trees and groups of curious onlookers. This is the first time she's stepped foot here since she and a thousand other residents were forced to flee their homes to make way for a hydroelectric dam being built to block the water of a river that ran through town. It's been 26 years since then, but due to an unprecedented drought in the region, Petosi has reemerged from the murky depths. While it may bring some nostalgic comfort to Josefa and others to see the town's old church once again--there's the creeping sense that all is not well.
Water Shortages Mean an Energy Crisis
With the drought, which has been felt throughout South America's northeast regions, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has declared a state of emergency. Because so much of the nation's energy is derived from hydroelectric facilities, a drought isn't just an agricultural crisis--but an energy crisis as well. He's called on citizens to dramatically reduce their energy and water usage.
The hydroelectric dam that drowned Potosi, driving Josefa and so many others from their homes, was built with the intention of bringing energy to the region's rural communities. Built in 1984, the facility now contributes little in the way of energy, the drought reducing its production to a mere 7 percent of capacity, reports BBC Brasil.
The facility's chairman, Juan Bautista Barilla:
This situation has led to rationing of energy that directly affects the population. We will have to ration power to get more mid-May, when we expect the rains start.
This rationing means that residents throughout the country are without power for much of the day.
Lack of Rains Could Cause Political Storms
President Chavez, in hopes of deflecting the criticism he's facing due to the power-crisis, has blamed El Niño for the unusually dry weather. Still, others are citing a deficit in the diversity of power generators to a lack of foresight for drought conditions.
To try and salvage his political reputation in this election year, Chavez's government has pledged $2 billion to invest in thermal power facilities.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Some observers see the region's particularly harsh drought season as being symptomatic of climate change phenomena. Across the continent, strange weather patterns have flooded major cities, causing mudslides and power-outages, while other regions slowly turn to desert.
Josefa glances at Potosi's old church, where she worked as an assistant to the priest and attended mass regularly. Its façade is all that stands, though it seems to have held up quite well for being 26 years underwater. "It brings me joy," she says, "but it also makes me sad to see the situation that we're in."