Colombians told to shower together as drought hits Bogotá

Restaurant owner Luis Alirio Soler fills buckets of water as restrictions hit business in Bogota
Restaurant owner Luis Alirio Soler fills buckets of water as restrictions hit businesses in Bogota - AP

Couples in Bogotá have been asked to shower together to save water amid a historic drought aggravated by the El Nino climate phenomenon.

Neighbourhoods across the Colombian capital were cut off from the water grid on Thursday to save what little water remains in nearby reservoirs.

Carlos Fernando Galán, the city’s mayor, pleaded with residents to consider forgoing daily hygiene measures entirely because of “historic lows” in water reserves.

“If you are not going to leave your house on Sunday or any other day of the week, take advantage of it and do not take a bath,” he said.

He went on to urge those in relationships to shower in tandem to save water: “Couples, shower together. This is just a teaching exercise, about saving water. That’s all it is.”

El Nino, a climate pattern that describes the unusual warming of surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, usually causes lower rainfall in South America.

Emergency measures

But this year the situation has escalated out of control, with record-breaking temperatures and droughts, forcing the introduction of emergency measures.

An ecological carwash in Bogota
An ecological carwash in Bogota - AP

Despite usually receiving twice the amount of annual rainfall as London, Bogotá has been surrounded by raging wildfires.

About 10 million people rely on the nearby reservoirs, which are now at a critical level.

Some 70 per cent of the capital’s water comes from the Chingaza reservoir, but its supplies are down to 16 per cent – their lowest level since 1980.

It is thought that just 54 days of water supplies for the capital remain.

New restrictions will impose 24-hour water cuts every 10 days by sector, leaving residents facing fewer showers, minimal laundry loads and dirty cars.

‘Don’t waste a drop’

The mayor has not said how long the restrictions would last, but urged residents to reduce consumption as much as possible.

“Let’s not waste a drop of water in Bogotá at this time,” said Mr Galán.

Susana Muhamad, the environment minister, said significant rains were only expected at the end of April or early May.

In the mountainous suburb La Calera, residents have been suffering occasional water cuts since February and tanker trucks now deliver drinking water.

“There are things we can no longer do, like washing the car,” Clara Escobar, 36, who came to fill two buckets from the tanker, told AFP.

“We shower less” and “we wash the clothes [only] when necessary”, she added.

Cafeteria sales impacted

Lorena Lee, 46, who owns a cafeteria in La Calera, predicted she will be unable to open on the days when the suburb is impacted by the cuts as she cannot prepare food without water.

“Obviously this affects a day of sales ... but there is nothing to do,” she said.

Extreme measures have also been enacted in Mexico City, where water has been rationed for the past month, and Guatemala, which declared a state of emergency in response to uncontrollable wildfires.

The shortages are part of a growing trend of warmer temperatures and limited rainfall.

In 2023, Mexico saw 21 per cent less rainfall than usual.

Uruguay’s capital of Montevideo was forced to rely on bottled water in 2023, as reserves dropped so low that brackish river water was mixed into the drinking supply by officials.

In 2018, residents of the South African city of Cape Town narrowly escaped so-called “Day Zero” when taps would have run dry because of a multi-year drought.