Cuba’s worst drought in a century has left one in six Cubans without running water and will get worse, a Cuban official warned on Friday, calling on the nation to save water.
The prolonged drought has hurt the Caribbean island’s sugar and rice production and led to the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of head of cattle in the parched eastern provinces of Las Tunas, Camaguey and Holguin.
“It is the worst drought our country has faced since 1901,” Aymee Aguirre, vice president of the National Water Resources Institute, said in statements published by the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma.
Aguirre said 2 million of Cuba’s 11.2 million inhabitants have seen their taps run dry and now rely on tanker trucks for their water.
Conditions will become critical in the coming months because rainfall in eastern Cuba is forecast to remain below average, she said.
Water levels in Cuba’s 235 reservoirs have dropped to 32 percent of their capacity, and 42 of them are virtually dry, she said. Of the 73 reservoirs that directly supply urban areas, 15 are closed and 23 have only 120 days of water left.
Even some outlying areas of Havana, the capital city of 3 million people, have seen their water mains run dry, she said.
The situation has deteriorated since January, when officials reported that 700,000 people were collecting water in buckets from tanker trucks.
Losses to agriculture had exceeded $830 million, they said.
The dry weather this year has further eaten away at Cuba’s already drought-ravaged sugar crop, forcing the traditional sugar exporter to import sugar for domestic consumption because local output is tied up in supply contracts.
Cuban President Fidel Castro predicted on Tuesday that this year’s crop would weigh in at no more than 1.7 million tonnes, the lowest since 1909.
“It is possible this year’s harvest will not reach 1.7 million tonnes, no, perhaps 1.5 million tonnes,” he said in a speech marking international women’s day. He blamed “the worst drought in our history” for the disastrous harvest.
Cuba produced 2.5 million tonnes of raw sugar last year.
The government has scrambled to build new water pipelines in eastern Cuba, providing inhabitants with materials and pumps to build reservoirs for collective use and setting up water filling stations for 200 tanker trucks in Las Tunas, media reports said.
In Camaguey, 100 head of cattle were slaughtered every day since the beginning of the year, a radio report said.
“The authorities are doing what they can, but the fact is there is no water,” said a man from Camaguey.