To ensure clean water for her family, Jessika Zamora walks almost a kilometer every day to her mother-in-law’s house, just to fill three gallons of water that is barely enough for drinking and cooking. If the water runs out first, as it does most of the time, she has to go back to the only house where she can refill the bottles, without having to pay.
Getting water to drink is the hardest part for her, says Zamora, 30. She has to get enough to supply her family: herself, her husband and their three children aged 13, 10 and 4. Since they moved to Bella Aurora eight years ago, a neighborhood in Managua’s District 7, access to water has been a torment that haunts them.
Since the Nicaraguan Water and Sewage Company (Enacal) completely abandoned the neighborhood at the end of last year and stopped sending tanks that supplied water to the community, Zamora and the other 400 families of the Bella Aurora neighborhood have had to buy water from private water tanks that arrive every day, since the neighborhood has no pipes to carry it.
Family expenses increase due to water purchases
At a cost of 40 córdobas per barrel, Zamora spends an average of 200 córdobas each week to buy five barrels. However, as it is almost always not enough for the household’s needs, she sometimes spends up to 400 córdobas a week. At the end of the month, water expenses vary from 800 córdobas to 1600 córdobas.
But that water is only used for household chores such as washing dishes, laundry and cleaning the floor, she says. Although the company that sells them water assures them that it is drinkable, it does not look like it is. “They say that the water is safe to drink, but when the water settles, it turns yellow and forms a white cream on top. I don’t think it’s really drinkable,” warns Zamora.
“We are always running out of water and lately even more so with the heat. There are times when we don’t have water to drink at night, so I have to travel at that time. With my husband we load the bottles in the baby carriage, because it is a very long trip to carry the water,” she says.
Promises of access to water are still just promises
According to Enacal, drinking water coverage in urban areas increased to 93% in 2021. The executive president of the institution, Ervin Barreda, told the official media that this is the highest water coverage figure in the country in its history.
According to Enacal’s interactive map, the area where Zamora lives receives 18 to 24 hours of water per day, but it is known to the inhabitants that there is no access to water in the whole area, unless they individually decide to pay to create a well and get water.
The promise of access to water in the Bella Aurora and surrounding neighborhoods – the Urbina and Bello Amanecer neighborhoods – has been pending for years, says Zamora. Enacal and the Managua mayor’s office have assured residents that projects are underway to guarantee access.
However, Enacal’s Interactive Map does not include Zamora’s area within the 2022-2026 project, nor did it include it in the 2007-2021 project.
“They told us that they are going to give us water when the houses of the Bismark Martínez project that are near the neighborhood are built, and that when they supply water to those houses, they are going to give it to us, but that is in a few years,” she says.
“I honestly don’t think that will be soon because my mom lives in the area and for 16 years the government has been telling them that they are going to put water in and nothing,” she adds.
Enacal’s argument for not bringing water: “bad roads”
The situation has become more difficult for these communities since Enacal stopped sending tanks in 2022, since according to the institution, the dirt roads are in bad condition and they cannot send vehicles.
However, instead of finding solutions to the problem, Enacal simply stopped sending tanks, leaving the neighborhoods helpless and with no other option but to buy water from private companies.
Faced with this, the residents went to the Mayor’s Office to request that streets be built so that the tanks could return, but they were told that no construction can be done if there is no sewerage for sewage and drinking water.
In addition, this step must also be taken with District 5, since the street to access the neighborhood is adjacent to both districts. The answer again was “to wait”. “This is a never-ending cycle,” says Zamora.
Water times have dropped in neighborhoods
Other neighborhoods in the areas have also experienced setbacks in access to water. Martha, from the Lomas de Guadalupe neighborhood, says that five years ago she had access to water all day long. But, since about three years ago the cut-offs began, changing them to not receiving water at night. In 2022 the cuts started in the afternoon, and this year she only gets water in the mornings.
“The cutbacks have affected us a lot, because sometimes we don’t even know when the water is going to run out. There are days when there is no water at noon, and other times it is 8 o’clock in the morning and there is none. As soon as I get up, I have to save water, otherwise I am left with nothing done in the house and no water to drink,” she says.
Due to the cutbacks, Martha has had to spend more than 3,000 córdobas just on large barrels to store water. At the beginning she only needed one barrel for the bathroom, but as the water times dropped considerably, she had to buy two more barrels for the yard, and one for the kitchen.
“At the beginning I only needed water for the toilet in the afternoon, but now there is not even water to do laundry, clean the floor, do things. It’s a lie that at eight o’clock in the morning when the water runs out, I’m going to have a clean house. So I have to save to do the chores,” she explains.
Martha also has difficulty securing drinking water, as it is limited for the five members of her family: herself, her husband and her three daughters. However, it only takes one hot day or one more person arriving at her home for her to have to buy a can of water at 70 córdobas.
“They have not given us explanations as to why cuts have increased. They tell us that water coverage is provided in our neighborhood, but only in certain parts of the main street, but not to the rest of the people who live in other parts of Las Lomas,” she says.
Residents have to collect water from private lagoons
Other residents of the Bella Aurora, Bello Amanecer and surrounding neighborhoods wait until nightfall to take water from the artificial lagoon of the Nejapa Golf and Country Club, an elite private club for golfers.
“We don’t do it all the time, only in critical situations when we don’t have water at all. We only use it to bathe and do other things, but we don’t use it for consumption,” says one of the community residents. Through a hole in the fence that separates the Country Club from the nearby neighborhoods, people sneak in just to get water from the lagoon.
This is no exaggeration, says Zamora. At times, she also has no water to bathe in and must walk the kilometer to her mother-in-law’s house just to take care of her hygiene and be able to attend her job, which is as a domestic worker, while her husband is a construction worker.
“A few days ago I had to go to my mother-in-law’s at five in the morning just to get a barrel of water, a barrel to wash myself, because I didn’t even have enough for that,” she says.
Other people have seen a business in the lack of water in these communities and vendors arrive in carts to offer 60 córdobas per barrel of water. Those who have not been able to buy from tanks in time are forced to buy water from the carts. However, not everyone can afford it and prefer to go and fetch water from the lagoon.
“People are desperate and don’t stock up. I am looking for a way to sell that house and leave, because honestly it is still going to take a long time,” says Zamora.