Desperate to Conserve Power, Venezuela Makes Every Friday a Holiday

April 8, 2016 | Gillian Burrell

Caracas, the capital of Venezuela
Photo credit: Daniel/Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0). Caracas, the capital of Venezuela.

3-day weekends for everyone!

On Thursday (April 7), Venezuelan president, Nicolas Maduro, unveiled a radical 60-day plan to conserve energy in the country. Every Friday in April and May will be a non-working holiday, a measure government officials hope will reduce demands on hydroelectric dams during the drought.

“This plan for 60 days, for two months, will allow the country to get through the most difficult period with the most risk,” Maduro said in a television appearance this week. “I call on families, on the youth, to join this plan with discipline, with conscience and extreme collaboration to confront this extreme situation.”

Venezuela is currently experiencing its worst drought in 47 years, which many are blaming on El Niño. However the problem has been building over the last three years, with the country’s primary reservoirs reaching progressively lower levels each year. Over the last several months, some residents have been intermittently been cut off from the water supply.

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75 percent of electricity in the capital city of Caracas is generated at the Guri Dam in Bolivar State. If water levels at the dam fall an additional 3 meters, the plant will have to be shut down to prevent damage to the turbines, leaving millions in the dark.

Last month, Venezuelans were given a full week holiday for Easter, which saved 22 centimeters at Guri Dam. The new 60-day plan will carry through to the end of May when the rainy season is expected to raise water levels enough that further rationing won’t be required.

“We estimate that the resumption of rains in April due both to seasonal patterns and the waning of El Nino should lead to the recovery of dam levels, allowing both Colombia and Venezuela to avoid further rationing,” Francisco Rodriguez, an economist with the Bank of America said in a report on Thursday.

But these drastic measures won’t come without consequences.

For a country already in economic shambles, reducing the productivity of its workers will only worsen Venezuela’s finances. Thanks to the low price of oil, food shortages, and an opposition-controlled Congress, Venezuela’s economy has been shrinking since 2014 and the IMF predicts that inflation will increase an unprecedented 204 percent this year.

According to the Misery Index, an economic indicator based on unemployment and inflation, Venezuela will be the most miserable economy this year, with a score of 159.7 projected for 2016, far above Greece’s 27 and Argentina’s 39.9.

A little rain might be the only thing keeping Venezuela from tumbling off the deep end!

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