The Santa Lucía river, which provided a constant flow of fresh water to the capital for more than 150 years, has almost disappeared for a few stretches. In February, a reservoir that until recently contained up to five billion gallons of water was sucked almost dry. Another dropped, at one point, to just 2 percent of capacity. As the fresh waters of Santa Lucía were depleted, the salt water of the Plata River, an estuary of the Atlantic, intruded into its river flow. Our main water treatment plant doesn’t have the technology to remove the salt, so it gets into our pipes, our homes, our bodies.

The government has no plan B for this crisis, which could last until October. One senator has tweeted pray for rain

As bad as it is here, Montevideo’s water crisis is not unique. In 2018, Cape Town began making plans for the chaos that would result in the very real scenario that it could run out of water entirely. In Brazil, which has a significant fraction of the world’s fresh water, many cities have restricted its use. In Mexico City, 70 percent of the population has access to water for only 12 hours a day, according to a 2017 United Nations study.

The 2023 UN World Water Development Report shows that one in four people lack access to clean water. “We cannot claim surprise about the coming drought,” Pedro Arrojo-Agudo, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights and drinking water, told me. “However strong and long it will be,” he said, “there must be alternative, complementary, supplementary sources,” and there must be a plan to “establish priorities during the crisis.”

Last week, Mr. Arrojo-Agudo, in a statement with other experts, told Uruguay that it “must put human consumption at the forefront, as indicated by international human rights standards,” ranking the demand “with ethical priority.” The government disputed his statement, saying the chemical levels were not as alarming as he claimed and that supportive measures were underway. But the reporter knows that the problem everywhere in the world is roughly the same and that rationing people’s consumption while leaving industrial or agricultural use unchecked, as he told me, “will use up more water and generate a greater risk of pollution. “

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