Havana, Between the Scarcity of Water and the Rains / Ivan Garcia


Iván García, 8 June 2015 — This is the current scenario. About 60,000 families receive their drinking water by tanker trucks. 60% of the water distributed is lost due to breakdowns in the hydraulic system. 20% of that water is wasted due to leaks within homes. Havana Water, the city’s water utility, and state industries are responsible for losing 80%.

Water is pumped in the neighborhoods on alternate days. In remote districts of the city, the supply may be provided every four days. Water scarcity causes many families to improvise to collect the precious liquid.

Substandard water storage is the leading cause of epidemics like dengue fever or chikungunya, which cause dozens of deaths every year. Or the outbreak of cholera, a disease that had been eradicated in Cuba since the early twentieth century.

Neglect and deterioration of public sewers cause flooding in the city with even light rains. In other bad news, which the regime can’t be blamed for, 63% of the country is affected by drought, with reservoirs in a critical state at only 39% capacity.

According to the engineer Antonio Castillo, deputy director of operations at Aguas de Havana, the situation is unsustainable in the medium and long term. “The supply basins are like bank accounts. If you invest, but you withdraw more than you deposit, you have less each time, and if you stop saving, one day you won’t have any money. The same thing happens with water,” he told the official press.

The lethal combination of leaks, bad workmanship, lack of foresight, and drought, has placed a red asterisk by water, not only in Havana, but also in the rest of the country.

If you walk at night in some Havana neighborhoods, you will see how water is wasted by broken pipes. At Espadero and Figueroa, in Reparto Sevillano, thousands of gallons of water are lost through leaks in the public networks. At the corner of October 10 Road and San Francisco, in Lawton, the street becomes a river.

On January 17, 2000, the National Institute of Water Resources and the Water Group of Barcelona, created Havana Water, a joint venture company. What does Havana Water do? Little or nothing. The neighbors are tired of complaining to the water system.

“One morning they come and make a sloppy repair that in a few hours is damaged again. They argue that because of the poor condition of the networks, the water pressure bursts many old pipes. All the specialists are experts at diagnosing the problem, but not at fixing it,” said Augusto, a resident of October 10th and San Francisco.

Not far away, in the building where Hiram lives on Carmen Street, also in Lawton, the tank overflows and an appreciable amount of water is wasted because they don’t have a single float.

“In multi-family buildings, painting the exterior, maintaining the water pump, and repairing the facade are supposed to be the responsibility of the state. But state agencies don’t lift a finger, so the residents have to manage everything,” notes Hiram.

Havana Water is replacing thousands of kilometers of pipes at a snail’s pace, but the poor quality of work has aggravated some within the populace. In Old Havana the water supply network is currently being replaced. It is scheduled to be completed in 2017 at a cost of more than $64 million.

The slow pace of work has led to the closure of many roads, turning the crowded streets into an obstacle course. Thoughtless people also throw garbage into the trenches, creating a foul stench that pervades the area.

But the ones who are worse off are those living in low-lying areas of the capital. In addition to water shortages, they live on the razor’s edge every time a rainstorm assaults Havana.

“I pray every time there’s bad weather. Over here everything floods. And with the rains of April 29th, because of the flooding, hundreds of families lost their belongings,” says Reinerio, a neighbor in Jesús María, a poor area in the old part of the city.

More than a month has passed since those rains and the state institutions have only given mattresses to the victims. “Nothing is free. They sell the mattresses for 900 pesos (about 45 dollars) on credit. They won’t replace refrigerators, televisions, or other ruined appliances. People are very disgusted with the government, because of the little help provided to families who have nothing and no place to go,” says Felicia, a housewife.

And there is no solution in sight. As I said at the beginning, it is a combination of factors. State negligence causes 60% of the water to be lost. The empty wallets of a large segment of the Cuban people prevent them from repairing the water system in their homes.

Many poor families live in constant fear of the rains, and now the hurricane season (June 1 to November 30). Add to the fury of nature the regime’s mismanagement. They are surrounded. And defenseless.