No Toilet Paper? An App To Wipe Away Your Problems

Abastéceme melds crowd-sourced information with Google maps to connect deprived Venezuelans with publicly-available caches of the stuff.

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A smuggler pushes a bicycle loaded with contraband on the foot bridge across the river Tachira on the Colombia-Venezuela border.

Venezuela’s toilet-paper crisis has gotten so dire that some of the South American country’s 29 million residents have resorted to high-tech measures to get their hands on the scarce bathroom essential. A free Android app called Abastéceme (“Supply Me” in English) melds crowd-sourced information with Google maps to connect deprived shoppers with publicly-available caches of the stuff. Since it first became available on May 29, the app has been downloaded more than 10,000 times.

(MORE: Bathroom Blues: Venezuela’s Toilet-Paper Crisis)

Here’s how it works: Anyone can input locations where toilet paper is for sale. Shoppers can then search for products by price and location. Currently being used primarily for finding toilet paper, the app works for a handful of other items in short supply as well. Jose Augusto Montiel, who developed the app with his sister, told the Associated Press that toilet paper is the most sought after product on Abastéceme, followed by flour. Locals are also sharing information on the whereabouts of sugar, milk and cooking oil. Montiel told AP that he has gotten requests to add a feature that allows residents to search for chicken, butter and soap as well.

While the South American country remains flush with oil, its populist policies, smuggling and government controls continue to choke the supply of basic goods. In 2007, milk, eggs and sugar could not be found on supermarket shelves. Next there was a wine and toilet-paper shortage. In mid-May, the country’s commerce minister announced the import of 50 million rolls of toilet paper, although monthly demand was estimated at more than twice that amount.

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