14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 17 August 2018 – “River Quibú, nobody washes on your shores,” the singer Frank Delgado chanted in the eighties. Three decades later the panorama has not improved around the river that crosses the western neighborhoods of Havana.
The neighbors denounce a delicate epidemiological and ecological situation caused by the great accumulation of solid waste that washes down the river.
“You can find anything from a floating dead pig to cupboards, chairs, tables or feces when there is flood,” says an inhabitant from the lower part of the basin, very close to the coastal area.
Along its route, the locals tell 14ymedio, the river collects several drainages and the garbage that people throw in. In addition, they assure that a project that began in 2006 to expand the mouth of the river and avoid floods “has not been finished” and is no longer talked about.
Some of the neighbors insist on the need to return to the idea of dredging to avoid the accumulation of garbage and assure that each year this matter is brought up to different institutions and responsible bodies, as well as being a recurring issue in the community’s “accountability assemblies” where the elected deputies offer residents a report on the year’s accomplishments.
The biologist Isbel Díaz says that “there is no project to sanitize the river in an integral way” and, although in some places sanitation works are carried out, this does not “mean anything when the river enters the city.” For Díaz, the fact that there is no project with this objective has to do with the fact that the waters flow “through a place that is one of the least privileged” and that “are further away from the tourist’s eye.”
The Quibú river basin is located within the City of Havana and passes through the municipalities of Marianao, Playa, La Lisa and Boyeros, including 16 People’s Councils which, in most cases, are made up of populations in very precarious economic situations, like the neighborhoods of Siboney, Buena Vista, Zamora, Santa Felicia, Pogolotti, Balcony of the Lisa, San Agustín, Heights of the Lisa, El Cano and Wajay.
In accordance with some scientific studies undertaken in the last decade, the main economic activities carried out in its surroundings are related to agriculture and scientific research. According to several university studies by the University of Havana, the environmental problems of Quibú have been evaluated as “of great importance” and the river is considered one of the most polluted in the city.
A UH master’s thesis on coastal zone management, published by Edgar Alexander Amaya Vasquez in 2015, argues that the origin of pollution in the Quibú basin is of both domestic and industrial origin, among the latter it mentioned the presence of heavy metals, detergents, pesticides, oils and petrochemicals. The contamination of the river, whose level is higher than that established by the Cuban Standard of Sanitary Quality, extends to a large part of the coastal zone, frequently used by bathers.
Inhabitants of the river bank tell of frequent mosquito outbreaks and that many people have already been infected with diseases such as zika or dengue. “The patios are full of mosquitoes and mice, you have to always have poison traps because if you don’t they get inside the house,” they say. Near the mouth of the river, all kinds of solid waste, jars and plastic bags, as well as old shoes accumulate on its shores, an ideal scenario for the proliferation of insects and rodents.
Díaz warns that, although the river water is not potable, it is used for other purposes such as agriculture, so that pollution can reach “the digestive system of the human being in an indirect way.”
In February 2017, the Law on Terrestrial Waters in Cuba came into effect, regulating, among other issues, the dumping of liquid and solid waste in the waters of the country, but the impact this legislation has had on the environment has yet to be evaluated.
This newspaper has not found a single person or company that has been fined for dumping waste or untreated waste into the river, which has contributed to creating a situation of impunity for those responsible for the contamination.
Translated by Wilfredo Díaz Echevarria
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