Venezuelan water bills soar as subsidies dwindle

STORY: In the hills of Tachira, Venezuela, residents have turned to washing their clothes in - and taking water from - the thermal springs here.

The reason: skyrocketing water bills on top of frequent outages, as subsidies from the cash-strapped government to fund basic services have dwindled.

Now, Venezuelans are demanding improvements to these basic services, including local councilman Carlos Taborda.

"In the municipality of Pedro Maria Urena, we suffer all year long, 365 days a year. There is not a day when the communities are benefited with water from the pipeline."

Many in Venezuela have been forced to pay large chunks of their salaries for everyday needs including water and electricity, despite regular blackouts and water shut offs.

Josefina Pena, who lives in a water-stressed community in Caracas, says she wouldn't even mind paying the sky-high prices for services if they were reliable.

''We can gladly pay, when they supply us with water, we will gladly pay. Now we are suffering with the national telephone company because the internet gets disconnected all the time. The phone is dead. I go to the telephone company office and nothing. They come, they check it, and that's all."

For years Venezuelans' utilities bills were kept largely frozen as the government was able to rely on oil income to fund subsidies.

But in recent years they've declined, starting with subsidies for garbage collection and then the state Internet service. And since the start of the year, water, electricity and telephone bills have spiked.

Meanwhile, years of divestment and mismanagement have worsened the problem, according to analysts.

Angelica Paredes, who lives in a neighborhood east of Caracas, said repeated water shut-offs forced her to change her routine.

''The lack of water was a blow because when I moved here the water was constant, there was always a lot of water, but then the water system started to fail. So we had to change our habits according to the times when water was available, two or three days a week, that was when we had to wash, clean the house and do all those things."

Inflation for basic services has come as wages stagnate.

This month, President Nicolas Maduro announced that the monthly minimum wage would not rise from 130 bolivars, or just over $5 at the official exchange rate, blaming U.S. sanctions.