Mérida, May 7th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – On Thursday, Venezuela moved forward on an urban planning and development deal with the mayoralty of Moscow to help improve the water, electricity, and housing systems in Venezuela’s sprawling capital, Caracas.
During a meeting in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzkhov signed a letter of intent to finalize a “Plan for City Development and Modernization of Urban Infrastructure” by September as part of the ongoing bilateral cooperation between Venezuela and Russia.
The head of the capital district of Caracas, Jacqueline Farías; the mayor of Caracas’s Libertador Municipality, Jorge Rodríguez; the minister for culture, Francisco Sesto; and the ministers for public works and housing, Diosdado Cabello, participated in the meeting.
Russia’s delegation included Russian Ambassador Vladimir Zaemsky, the head of the Moscow Urbanization Department, Alexander Kosovan, and the director of the Russia’s largest state-owned water and wastewater services company, Mosvodokanal, among other officials.
Caracas bears the mark of the OPEC nation’s unequal, oil export-driven growth during most of the Twentieth Century, particularly a stark contrast between the city’s wealthy elite sectors and its extensive slums where the majority poor live.
Mayor Luzkhov said his delegation came to Venezuela “not only to learn about the situation in Caracas but also to become part of a working group to help with the elaboration of a work plan.” He said that in the past, Moscow also had a vast poor population living in inadequate housing with few services, and that the city is willing to share its experiences in overcoming these problems.
President Chavez said the plan would start with an investment of $500 million in public housing, to be drawn from state oil company profits and a national budget surplus. Chavez said construction would begin in a 30 hectare (74 acre) plot near the military Tiuna Fort in Caracas.
Chavez added that the project would help Venezuela’s poor turn their “shacks into homes,” a reference to the name of a five year-old public housing plan that has provided for tens of thousands of Venezuela’s poor but failed to solve the national housing shortage, which some estimates place at more than 2 million.
Mayor Luzkhov said Caracas could also learn from Moscow’s water system. “The aqueduct system in Moscow is the biggest in the world. Therefore, we should take advantage of those experiences to make proposals to solve the water problem,” he said.
Meanwhile on Thursday, the Venezuelan National Assembly approved a credit of 400 million bolivars for water and waste treatment in cities nation-wide. 332 million bolivars will go to programs for the management of solid waste in Caracas’s largest slums, including 23 de Enero, La Vega, Caricuao, and Antimano. The rest will be distributed to state water companies to renovate reservoirs, build aqueducts and tubing for water distribution, and construct water purification plants, according to government sources.
Last year, Venezuela announced that 94% of its population had access to potable water, placing the Caribbean nation among the few countries to have fulfilled the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal for clean water access. However, the government says access to water is only 60% in rural areas, and economic growth continues to put pressure on water systems nation-wide.
Another major agenda item on Thursday was Venezuela’s electricity shortage, which was triggered by an extended dry season that debilitated Venezuela’s dams, from which the country draws nearly three-quarters of its electricity.
Electricity Minister Ali Rodriguez said on Thursday that heavy rains in April reversed the downward trend in water levels at the nation’s largest dam, El Guri. Since the rains passed, however, the water level has dropped to a new critical low of 248.22 meters.
To narrow the gap between energy supply and demand, the Venezuelan government has rapidly expanded thermoelectricity production over the last six months and established conservation measures that reduced nation-wide consumption by 2.5% in the first three months of this year.
This allowed the consortium of regional electricity companies, which were nationalized in 2006, to suspend energy rationing to most of the country, although some unscheduled blackouts continue to occur.
During Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s visit to Venezuela on April 2nd, the Russian energy company INTER-RAOUES agreed to build a 200-500 megawatt plant in Venezuela to help satisfy the demand, which has grown by more than 41% over the past ten years.
Meanwhile, two similar large-scale, natural gas-powered thermoelectric generators are being constructed at the nation’s largest steel plant, SIDOR, which itself consumes an estimated 800 to 1,000 megawatts, almost six percent of the country’s total demand.
During Thursday’s meeting, Chavez said the planned urban development projects would begin in Caracas and then be expanded to other urban centers. Leaders from both nations also discussed plans to build monuments to the heroes of the Russian Revolution of 1917 in Caracas, and to Venezuela’s independence heroes Simón Bolívar and Francisco de Miranda in Moscow.
Venezuela previously signed an agreement with the administration of former London Mayor Ken Livingstone to exchange urban planning expertise for £18 million worth of discounted Venezuelan fuel for London’s public bus system. The deal was scrapped in January by conservative Mayor Boris Johnson, who replaced Livingstone.
In related urban planning news, Venezuela’s state-controlled Social and Economic Development Bank of (BANDES) announced a credit of $167 million for the expansion of the metro system in the western city of Maracaibo by six stations.