Patricia Grogg | [url=http://www.IPSnews.net]http://www.IPSnews.net[/url]
The comings and goings of tanker trucks and the urgent extension of water pipelines give away the fact that the drought—which already has taken a heavy toll on the Cuban countryside—has also settled in the island’s cities.
This acute shortage of water, leaving a landscape of dry, cracked ground and killing thousands of livestock, clashes with the image of lush Caribbean paradise that has characterised the island where for the past five centuries poets have memorialised the tropical climate and fertile soil.
Ten years ago the drought hit the eastern part of Cuba, and since early 2003 has only gotten worse, to the point that in May of this year none of the island’s 14 provinces saw more than 60 percent of its usual monthly rainfall.
Holguín, Camagüey and Las Tunas, located east of Havana, are the provinces with the worst rainfall shortages. But to the west the water sources for the capital have begun to dry up, and the level of the Pinar del Río reservoir, 176 km from the capital has fallen dramatically.
To deal with the water shortage emergency, a governmental commission, headed by the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH) has worked since the beginning of this month to seek alternatives for the short, medium a
To deal with the water shortage emergency, a governmental commission, headed by the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH) has worked since the beginning of this month to seek alternatives for the short, medium and long terms.
Meanwhile, the farming sector is in this socialist-run country is creating incentives for cultivating crops that are more resistant to drought and disease, and is implementing more efficient irrigation systems and rescheduling plantings according to the new—and meagre—rainfall patterns.
‘‘We have learned a great deal with each new drought,’’ Jorge Luis Aspiolea, head of INRH, the body entrusted with protecting and ensuring rational use of Cuba’s water resources, told a recent press conference.
According to INRH calculations, four billion dollars would be needed to resolve all of the drought-related problems that have accumulated so far, including the poor state of the country’s 2,708 aqueducts and its water distribution networks. As it stands, just seven or eight million dollars have been invested in this area each year.
In 2003, INRH completed more than 100 projects, having earmarked 76 percent of its resources to put 51 aqueducts in operation and to rehabilitate sewer systems.
Of Cuba’s 11.2 million inhabitants, 95 percent are supplied by existing water networks, a level of coverage that officials say is comparable to that of industrialised countries and is one of the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The month of May, which is normally considered rainy season, this year was the driest since 1961, and in some parts of the island, the driest in history.
To date, 62 reservoirs have dried up—26 percent of the national total. By the end of May, Cuba had 3.4 billion cubic metres of water stored up, just 39 percent of total capacity, according to the latest available reports.
But the water supply system has suffered problems for a long time, predating the current drought. Havana, for example, has 4,000 km of pipeline in its water distribution network, but 3,000 should be replaced because they are in poor repair.
Ninety-four percent of the population has access to the sanitation system, but just 40 percent have access in their own homes, and there are many older sewage collection tanks in the city and latrines are widely used in rural areas.
The ongoing drought is a pressing matter—and a spark for new projects.
Holguín, home to 1.29 million people and located 770 km east of Havana, receives its water supplies from three dams, but two have been exhausted, and the third is quickly seeing its reserves fall.
In January construction began on 53 km of pipeline to ensure that by August some 500 litres of water per second will arrive in Holguín from the still strong-flowing Cauto River.
‘‘That is our hope, because we are already exhausted after carrying water for so many months,’’ María Luisa Arroyo, a Holguín resident told Tierramerica in a phone interview. Her neighbourhood is supplied by a tanker truck on a somewhat regular basis.
The situation in Camagüey, 570 km east of Havana, is no less serious. ‘‘sometimes we will go a week when there is no water in the taps,’’ said Rene Montes, resident of the historic centre of this historic colonial city.
Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo—the island’s five eastern provinces—historically have been the hardest hit by drought, and, to add insult to injury, they lag farthest behind in access to water and sanitation.
(* Originally published Jul. 17 by Latin American newspapers that are part of the Tierramerica network. Tierramerica is a specialised news service produced by IPS with the backing of the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme.)