Santiago de Cuba Hit Hard by Drought

Communities in central and eastern Cuba report losses from the drought. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymdio, Zunilda Mata, 29 March 2017 — Cuba is experiencing one of the worst droughts of the last half century and its reservoirs are at 39% capacity, a situation that affects the water supply for people, industry and agriculture. Santiago de Cuba is going through the most serious situation, according to José Antonio Hernández, director of the Department of Rational Use of the Institute of Hydraulic Resources, who spoke Wednesday on state TV.

In that eastern province some 635,000 people are supplied with water on 17 and 20 day cycles. Meanwhile, more than 81% of the agricultural area of ​​the island is affected in some way by the lack of regular irrigation. The picture is aggravated by the annual loss of 3.4 billion cubic meters of water through leaks and breaks in the supply system.

Currently, the reservoirs in at least 11 provinces are below 50% of their normal levels and “in three they do not even reach 25%,” Hernández said. In the case of Ciego de Ávila stored water stored barely fills 15% of the reservoir capacity in the territory. The supply is currently governed by a rigorous schedule, prepared by the local Aqueduct and Sewerage Management.

Reservoirs in at least 11 provinces are below 50% of their normal levels and “in three they do not even reach 25%

The Zaza dam, with the country’s largest storage capacity, is also in a difficult position. Located in Sancti Spíritus province, the dam is filled to only 14% of its capacity, the equivalent of 146 million cubic meters. The neighboring Siguaney Dam has less than one million cubic meters of usable water.

This central province has seen 69 of its supply sources dry up, 16 of them totally. This situation affects 105,821 inhabitants in more than 40 communities and urban neighborhoods of the cities of Sancti Spíritus, Trinidad and Jatibonico, according to figures offered by the local press.

“Since the first signs of the drought in the country began in mid-2014, working groups have been set up to deal with this problem,” explains Hernández, whose mission is to monitor and assess the situation in each area from the municipalities.

At the end of last year the country’s reservoirs were 1.510 million cubic meters below the historical average, a situation that has been aggravated in the first quarter of 2017 and has forced the country to expand the practice of supplying water through tanker trucks – popularly known as pipas – that deliver water neighborhood by neighborhood and block by block, to residents who collect it in every available container.

Water problems have also affected internal migration. “The fact of being able to open the spigot and have water is a luxury I can’t give myself in Palmarito de Cauto,” Raydel Rojas, a man from Santiago who recently emigrated to the capital, tells 14ymedio.

Water problems also influence internal migration

“The problem in the province and in small towns is that it becomes more difficult to pay for the water truck,” says Rojas. “You have to live day by day buying water little by little.”

In the West, the situation is not without problems either. The authorities have looked at the private swimming pools, considering them wasteful in times of drought. The entrepreneurs who rent to tourists in the area of ​​Viñales have experienced the “anti-pool” offensive with special intensity.

At the beginning of last year the Council of the Municipal Administration decreed the closing of all the pools and canceled the licenses to rent to tourists for those who resisted obeying. Over the months the situation has worsened.

“Now they carefully supervise water consumption and call to account those who have a greater consumption,” complains an entrepreneur who rents two rooms in his home in this village that attracts a lot of tourists. The innkeeper, who chose to remain anonymous, said local inspectors “have their eye on the pumps if we increase the pressure of the showers because they say it costs too much.”