[CARACAS] Venezuela declared a two-day work week for government workers and said it was seeking international help to save its power grid amid a drought that threatens the capital's main source of electricity.
The two-day work week, after the government added Wednesdays and Thursdays as non-working days to save more power, will last at least two weeks, President Nicolas Maduro said on his weekly program broadcast on state television. Schools will be closed on Fridays starting this week, he said.
"The public sector will work Monday and Tuesday, while we go through these critical and extreme weeks where we are doing everything to save the Guri," Mr Maduro said, referring to the giant hydroelectric dam that has become like a "desert". The collection of electricity-saving measures have reduced Guri's daily drop from 22 centimetres a day to 10 centimetres, he added.
Venezuela is requesting emergency international help from the United Nations for public works construction to help the country recover from an "extreme situation," Mr Maduro said. He called for "social peace" during the power crisis.
Venezuelans, except those in Caracas and some states, began to experience programmed four-hour rolling blackouts on Monday as a drought cripples generation at the Guri dam. It's the latest blow to an economy that the International Monetary Fund forecasts will contract 8 per cent this year, after shrinking 5.7 per cent in 2015.
Water levels at Guri dam reached a record low of 241.67 metres on Monday, according to state power utility Corpoelec. If levels drop below 240 metres, the dam's operator may be forced to shut down units at the plant that produces about 75 per cent of the electricity that Caracas, the country's capital and largest city, consumes.
Mr Maduro ordered the country's time zone changed this month to save energy, reversing the decision by his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, to set back clocks 30 minutes in 2007 to ease daily predawn commutes for school children and the poor. Clocks will be moved forward a half hour May 1.
The president decreed Fridays as holidays for state workers through May as part of plans to save electricity after ordering a week-long break over the Easter holiday last month. Mr Maduro said those efforts saved almost 22 centimetres of water at the Guri dam in the southern state of Bolivar.