The water does not come to Santiago de Cuba

Camión cisterna en una calle de Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta)
Tanker truck on a street in Santiago de Cuba. (Yosmani Mayeta)

The drought has become an undesirable comrade for the residents of Santiago de Cuba. For years, the city has suffered low rainfall, deficiencies in the water supply system, and an erratic distribution policy.

In the midst of the celebrations for the fifth centenary of the city’s founding, the contents of a water truck cost the equivalent of ten convertible pesos on the black market, almost half the average monthly salary. The families who can’t pay it have to be satisfied with storing in tanks and buckets the trickle that comes out of the taps once or twice a month.

In recent months, the water supply situation has become more drastic, and although the rains flooded a part of the center and west of the country, they have not made it to the east. The residents of Santiago’s slums and neighborhood look to the sky in hopes of a downpour that will fill the reservoirs and improve the situation of agriculture.

Dayana Despaigne, mother of two, uses the water given to her by some neighbors with more resources, to clean, wash and do the cooking. She says she doesn’t have the money “to buy the water,” so she hopes for the generosity of others or of the “the workers on the aqueduct” supplying the neighborhood where she lives.

Not far from Dayana’s house is the Chicharrones neighborhood, where Luisa Hernandez said that “almost a month has gone by with no water coming to the block, and this is not only the fault of the drought.” The lady complains of the lack of organization and a regular supply schedule and says that “they have forgotten to open the aqueduct when it touches us,” referring to the taps that allow the water to flow to different areas of the city.

The situation extends to the area known as Venceremos, where the water comes every 15 days. On this occasion, according to comments from Juana Milagros Bonne, “They passed us up, because it’s been more than twenty-five days without a drop and it seems that for now it won’t come our way, because we have been informed that there is a break and that the cistern that supplies us is empty.”

The water trucks, commonly known as “pipes,” should help to ease the situation when the water doesn’t come through the actual water pipes. However, much of their cargo ends up diverted to the black market, where there is a growing demand due to need.

A resident of Altamira commented to  14ymedio that on several occasions they have bought water from the trucks because “the cycle is very long and my tank supplies several family houses.” But he considers “ten convertible pesos to be a lot of money,” and “in the neighborhood we’ve never seen the supply trucks sent by the government to supply water to the people.”

The problem is not just that the water doesn’t fall from the sky, but how much is lost through leaks and breaks. A worker on the aqueduct revealed to this newspaper that “the meters that measure the water are in poor condition in many houses, which negatively affects the wasting of water.” The employee also recognizes that “the company does not have the necessary means to repair the networks in the short term.”

Just two years ago, Raul Castro made a speech at the 26 th of July celebration in the Santiago capital where he set as a goal repairing the water system throughout the city. Today, many families in the area give up a good part of their wages to pay for the water trucks or the water carriers who sell buckets and bottles. Water days don’t seem to arrive for Santiago de Cuba.

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