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Colección: INTERAMER
Número: 69
Año: 2000
Autor: Ramón López and Juan Carlos Jordán, Editors
Título: Sustainable Development in Latin America: Financing and Policies Working in Synergy


The legal framework in Venezuela is defined by three main pieces of legislation: the Organic Law of the Environment, the Organic Law of Territorial Organization, and the Environmental Penal Law. The first defines the overall objectives for environmental conservation, the second assigns responsibilities for natural resources planning and management to the Ministry of the Environment, and the third, with its technical standards, sets penalties for environmental offenses. The basic approach can be characterized as one of heavy direct government intervention through one central authority and reliance on a command-and-control approach enforced by penalties and fines.

The Ministry of the Environment (MARNR) was created in 1977 and was given wide responsibilities as an executing agency. Starting in 1995, a reform process was set in motion to emphasize the regulatory side and shift part of its executing capabilities to specialized agencies, but it has not concluded yet. Budget allocations for the MARNR have ranged from 3.9% to 5.7% of the national budget. In 1996 its budget was US$319 million, but in 1998 it dropped 30% as a result of overall fiscal constraints. Because of its responsibilities as an executing agency, the building of infrastructure to manage water resources has represented between 78% and 93% of its total spending, with much lower allocations to forestry and environmental management.

The Ministry has oversight responsibilities over several large agencies, such as the National Parks Institute (INPARQUES), Institute for the Conservation of the Lake Maracaibo (ICLAM), and HIDROVEN and its 10 regional water utilities.

The MARNR collects information on the main basins (lakes Maracaibo and Valencia and the Tuy, Neverí, Yaracuy, and Manzanares rivers). Its Hydrological Division carries out quarterly information campaigns covering 205 points on 172 rivers. Simultaneously, the MARNR has created a registry identifying over 2,400 point sources. This registry includes 1,528 industries, of which 374 have implemented wastewater-treatment processes. Even though the same information is not available for Colombia, it seems that the MARNR can show a better record in terms of controlling industrial sources. In this case, known water pollution problems are caused by the main metropolitan areas (93% of the total population lives in urban areas) and highly polluting industries. There are no estimates of the contribution from non-point sources. The petroleum-extraction and petrochemical industries, run by state-owned enterprises, are important contributors to water and air pollution problems in several areas of the country, including some localized impacts on coastal areas.

In terms of residential wastewater, as of 1995 Venezuela had built 56 treatment plants, including 44 stabilization lagoons, which treated less than 6% of total effluents. As a result of this low coverage, several areas had important water-quality problems, among them lakes Maracaibo and Valencia and several rivers in these basins, the Tuy River,16 coastal areas of the Federal District, and Zulia, Falcón, Carabobo, and Anzoátegui states.

The most important residential wastewater-treatment projects have been implemented directly by the MARNR or its agencies, 100% financed by the central government. Recent projects include the following:
  • The Lake Valencia sanitation project, which would reduce pollution levels in the lake by 80%, treating 2,300 tons of TDS, greases, and toxic elements. This project includes two secondary and one tertiary treatment plants. These plants were supposed to be operated by the regional water utility (Hidrocentro) but its finances are so weak (tariff revenues cover less than 85% of its operating costs, not counting the expensive operation of the treatment plants) that the Ministry is planning to cover these costs until Hidrocentro can increase its revenues.
  • The Maracaibo sanitation treatment plan, which includes several secondary treatment plants to handle approximately 8 m3/sec of municipal wastewater. The main objective of these plants is to clean up Lake Maracaibo, but heavy investments will be needed in the petrochemical and petroleum extraction industry located around the lake.
  • The Tuy River recovery projects, which would treat effluents from a population equivalent to 8 million people.17 Two wastewater-treatment plants built in the past (one for residential areas and one for industrial wastes) no longer operate.
The coverage of potable water and sewerage services has declined during the last 10 years from 81% and 75% in 1986, to 76% and 53% in 1996. The sanitation sector faced very serious financial problems that triggered a reform process in 1989 that split the old National Sanitation Institute (INOS) into 10 regional corporations and a parent company (HIDROVEN) appended to MARNR. Financial resources for the sanitation sector during the period 1986-1990 showed a disturbing mix, with 80% coming from the central government and internal sources contributing only 20%. Reform objectives include quality of service and efficiency improvements, using as tools decentralization, private-sector participation, and community control.