14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 10 April 2019 — On Merced Street in Old Havana a cloud of dust rises that floods the entire block every time debris is thrown off the roof of a house under construction. All the neighbors have their doors and the windows closed, very few show themselves to the block. A lady who sells sweets in one of the side passages of a building looks up and says, “And all this without a drop of water.”
The neighbors affirm that in Merced “almost no water has arrived for three months” but that the worst has been ten days with a complete absence of water. That’s why Laura has gone to the house of a friend who lives in Calle Picota and has a small cistern that receives a trickle of water, “by gravity,” between 4:00 in the afternoon and 10:00 at night. “That’s why I come to bathe here; as of January water hasn’t come to my house in the normal way.”
On his block, he explains, the neighborhood delegate “is playing a role now” to ’resolve’ a water truck but only “because people pressured him” after a week no water. The supply cycle through this alternative route is only once a week, insufficient for the needs of a home. “When people protest they react, when we haven’t had a water truck for five days, the service is not constant,” complains Laura.
Eduardo, a resident from San Isidro who looks out the door of Laura’s friend’s house with two empty buckets, complains. “Those who have money can pay for the water trucks, the poor have to wait for it to happen whenever it is, now it comes once a week,” he says.
Laura’s friend’s house is like a small oasis inside the San Isidro neighborhood, one of the neighborhoods by the crisis of the water supply. “The whole world comes by here, my cistern is small and what I have is what arrives by gravity, but it is something, we help those who do not have a drop,” says the good Samaritan as she cleans beans on a table full of junk.
Eduardo tells it like a story from a book that, on Egido Street, “people launched themselves into the street” about two weeks ago. “They closed the block with children and everything, putting out mattresses and posters and then the police and six trucks appeared. You ask yourself, is this what we have to do, go out into the street, to resolve things, is this how the problem is solved.” On every corner, he adds, there is the company from Aguas de La Habana (Havana Water) with a brigade “digging with picks and shovels without a solution coming.”
In the 658 Egido Street building there is still talk of the protest a fortnight ago. Since that day the water truck has come every two days to fill the cistern.
At the entrance of the building, a group of girls talk about the reasons that led them to take to the streets to demand water from the authorities. “The problem is money; when you fill all the tanks you want, it can cost between 20 and 40 CUC, but right now, as it is, it can cost up to 50 [each water truck] and nobody here has a single peso, that’s why what we did what we did that day and it worked for us,” says the youngest of them all.
“The problem with water is very serious. I’ve seen people going nuts when the truck comes. It looks like we’re going back to the same time as before, that there was nothing and everyone was fighting over a bucket of water,” says another of the girls at the foot of the stairs.
Several residents of Merced Street explained to 14ymedio that the crisis began with the works for the 500th anniversary of La Villa de San Cristóbal (Havana). According to the official press it is “a large-scale project” that aims to improve water supply to more than 9,000 inhabitants. It began in March, just the month when supply problems reached their worst in the seven people’s councils of Old Havana.
The technical director of the Havana Water Company, Esther García, told the official press that this area of the city receives water with low pressure, with an intermittent and bad service and that for this reason the execution of the project was approved.
“On television it’s one thing and the reality is very different, there’s talk about building a new pipeline and that will be the solution, but here we only see scarcity,” says Mirna Flores, a resident of Merced Street.
The official data shows there are 8,600 people who currently receive water from tankers in that area while the new pipeline is finished. Brigades from the Havana Water Company, forces of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources and the Ministry of Construction are involved in the task with the promise of concluding it by September of this year.
While the commitment becomes reality before the eyes of all, the neighbors of Old Havana are still waiting for the arrival of a water truck and carrying buckets of water. The president of the Méndez building Council of Neighbors in the San Isidro neighborhood, assures this newspaper that there are cases of “elderly people over 90 years old who live alone” and can not go down to carry water, and “sick people.” They are more vulnerable to these crises. “Here the solution is would be that once again one opens the tap and the water comes out, as it should be.”
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