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Posted August 11, 2004 by publisher in Cuban Healthcare

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BY DOUG NELSON | [url=http://www.themilitant.com]http://www.themilitant.com[/url]

Cuba’s revolutionary government is mobilizing people and resources to ease the impact of an intense drought in the country’s eastern and central regions, which is affecting water supplies for agricultural production and domestic use. The provinces of Camagüey, Las Tunas, and Holguín have been especially hard hit this year, following six years of unusually dry spring seasons.

To confront the situation today, as well as to plan for a future in which rainfall is expected to remain low due to climatic changes, the government, backed by the mass organizations of working people, has been trucking in water, digging hundreds of wells, and building water pipelines. It is working to create more efficient irrigation techniques, develop drought-resistant crops, and reorganize crops according to climatic changes in different regions.

Between April 2003 and May of this year, rainfall in part of central and eastern Cuba was 16 inches below the norm. Water reservoir levels are at 39 percent of capacity nationwide, down from 61 percent a year ago. Most dammed water is used to irrigate farms.

Half of the 10,000 wells have dried up in Holguín province, which is going through its worst drought in 43 years. The capital city of Holguín province, also called Holguín, has seen two of the three reservoirs that provide water to the urban population dry up as well.

More than 3,300 water sources for cattle have dried up in the eastern provinces, the Cuban weekly Granma International reported. As a result, about 90 cattle have been dying a day due to lack of food and water.

In response to the shortage, the government has mobilized all available tanker trucks to deliver water, both for the hardest-hit cities in eastern Cuba as well as for the livestock.

In the city of Holguín, with a population of 200,000, the government has added 60 new water delivery trucks to the 40 that were already in service, built 10 new water pumping stations, and dug 100 new wells. Water has been distributed on the basis of six gallons per person a day.

Aqueducts are being built to pipe in water to the capital cities of the provinces of Holguín, Camagüey, and Las Tunas from distant rivers and reservoirs.

Workers have been engaged in a round-the-clock project constructing a 34-mile high-density polyethylene pipeline from Cuba’s largest river to Holguín. “We are racing against time before the water runs out,” said Leandro Bermúdez, deputy provincial director of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources. Holguín’s remaining reservoir, the Gibara basin, is expected to run dry by mid-September.

Over the past several years, Cuba has been improving its irrigation techniques in order to conserve water and fuel. One method used increasingly on banana plantations is drip irrigation. As of May, new irrigation techniques were being used on more than 190,000 acres, half of irrigated crops. According to deputy minister of agriculture Juan Perez Lamas, the plan for this year is to reach nearly 231,500 acres with the new equipment.

The use of electricity has been extended to operate water pumps that don’t use fuel, in order to pump water to almost a quarter million acres. So far this year, 800 windmills have been installed to generate electricity, with plans to construct another 150 in the eastern region most affected by the drought.

Cuba’s ministry of agriculture has also been working with farmers to produce strains of crops that are more resistant to drought, as well as to reorganize agricultural production according to the different and changing climatic regions.

Dr. Sergio Rodríguez, director of the National Institute of Tropical Tubers, told Granma International that the eastern provinces will increase the cultivation of yucca and a variety of plantain that is particularly resistant to both drought and disease. The response by the Cuban people and their revolutionary government contrasts with the situation in semicolonial countries in other parts of Latin America that have been hit by drought conditions. In Haiti, for example, erratic or nonexistent rainfall has jeopardized the season’s harvests in the northwest, one of the most impoverished regions of the country. The threat of drought follows devastating floods earlier this year.

The Haitian government and its mentors in Washington have done little to ease these conditions, however. Farmers have lost livestock due to the drying up of pasture land. As a result of the crisis, farm families have been forced to sell animals and toolsótheir livelihood. 

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