Spring has officially arrived, but without the rain. Every day the drama worsens in the Cuban countryside, especially in the East. Throughout the length and breadth of the country, the private agricultural sector is experiencing a very difficult situation, because of the precariousness of resources and the lack of methods to transport water.
While the world celebrates International Water Day many farmers look to the sky to try to predict when the rains will come. The year has begun with negative omens. Between November 2014 and the end of January an accumulated shortage of rain has affected 52% of the country. Among the provinces most affected are Pinar del Río, Artemisa, Cienfuegos, Villa Clara, Camagüey, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo.
Camagüey, which provides a quarter of the country’s production of milk and meat, is in a state of emergency because of the rainfall deficit and the low level of its reservoirs. Keeping the livestock fed and the crops irrigated has become an almost impossible task. The problems do not stop there. The region’s weather center has warned of the danger of forest fires in the coming weeks.
In the city of tinajones (claypots), families who have a well feel fortunate, while others depend on water trucks and buy drinking water from street merchants who trade in different quantities such as jars, jugs and buckets.
The poor condition of supply networks with millions of leaks, means that a high percentage of pumped water is lost
The Government and the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH) call to increase saving measures and better organize distribution cycles. However the poor condition of the supply networks, with millions of leaks, means that a high percentage of pumped water is lost.
The province of Sancti Spiritus faces a similar situation. At least 25 water supply sources are below minimum capacity and 43,000 people depend on water trucks for cooking, washing, domestic hygiene and irrigating the fields. Experts agree that the worst is yet to come, when temperatures rise along with consumption of the precious liquid.
The city of Trinidad is also going through a difficult time dealing with an increase in tourism while its water systems are virtually empty. Its main source of supply, the San Juan de Letrán Springs, located in the Escambray Mountains, are only supplying 25 quarts per second right now, versus the 110 that normally occurs for these dates.
The city of Trinidad is also going through a difficult time dealing with an increase in tourism while its water systems are virtually empty
Maurilio Gonzalez, who lives on the outskirts of the city of Ciego de Ávila, shows his emaciated cattle surrounded by flies. He complains that the pastures aren’t providing the food needed to sustain the dairy herd. “I have to leave very early every morning to see from what center I might get byproducts from sugar-making so that at least my cattle don’t die.” Pointing to the land around him, he says, “There is no grass anywhere, it is all burned up by the sun.”
Havana does not escape the problems associated with drought. Antonio Castillo, deputy director of operations for Havana Water (AH), told the state media that at the end of April the supply sources for the capital’s water will be at levels between normal and unfavorable. If rain is not abundant in May, the city will face serious problems with distribution.
Josefina Iriarte lives in a part of Old Havana that only receives water through so-called pipes. “A few weeks ago the supply became more regular and prices went up,” says this resident of Cuba Street, whose sons are experts at dragging water tanks from hundreds of yards away. The whole house is designed to store every drop. “But you can’t get it if there isn’t any and the longer it doesn’t rain the harder it gets.”
The reservoirs of Santiago de Cuba only store 255,769,000 cubic meters right now, 37% of their capacity and one of the lowest levels in recent years. Dams showing alarming situations are the Protesta de Baraguá Dam and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes Dam, the largest in the country which are responsible for supplying water to the neighboring provinces of Holguin, Granma and Guantanamo, on the eastern end of the island.
Don’t just look up and hope that the rains fall; we must rethink our models of water consumption
Cuba has 242 dams, dozens of micro dams and about 2,420 aqueducts. The networks run over 37,000 miles with 70 water treatment plants and 3,200 miles of sewers. But most of that infrastructure shows some deterioration and in some cases is in a calamitous state. Millions of quarts a year are wasted due to damaged taps and pipes that spill the water before it reaches residences and farms.
Last February, the Director of Organization, Planning and Information of the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH), Bladimir Matos, called for “a culture of conservation among users” to try to mitigate the effects of the current drought and to confront the challenges for the country and around the globe with regards to water reserves.
The United Nations has put out a call to think about how to distribute water resources more efficiently and equitably in the future. In other words, don’t just look up and hope that the rains fall; we must rethink our models of water consumption.