Havana Without Water, Another Headache for the Regime / Iván García

Photo: Martha Beatriz Roque

“Not even by paying 10 CUC (12 dollars) can a family get a pipa (water truck) in order to fill buckets, tanks and containers,” says Liudmila, a resident of El Calvario, a desolate hamlet south of Havana. Although there have been deliveries of water lately, shortages continue.

In the first week of January, in El Calvario there were 5 days without water. The lack of pipas to alleviate the water shortage created a very tense situation for people. The same thing has happened in other places, where there have been no lack of protests.

The drought that has affected the Cuban capital for 7 years has caused a deficit of more than 328 thousand cubic meters of water. The dramatic shortage has led to reductions in the delivery of the precious liquid to 10 of the 15 municipalities of Havana.

If you add to the disastrous drought the fact that 60% of potable water distributed in the city is lost due to breaks and leaks in the pipes, and that 128 major industrial centers in the capital use three times what they need, then in addition to being serious, the problem becomes complex.

Excessive exploitation of surface and ground water has resulted in the collapse of different supply points to the capital, with water quantities well below their capacity.

From 2003 to date, the average rainfall for Havana was as high as 89%. This has been the driest period in the last 49 years.

The provincial supervision of water resources in the capital has activated a Code Red. Five years ago, the company Aguas de La Habana, with hard currency financing from a Catalan society, began to restore the deteriorating distribution networks, but the work has been slow and insufficient.

Only 20% of the pipes in the city have been repaired, due to their age and a chronic lack of maintenance, which has left them severely damaged. The broken pipes in turn make a mess of the public roads, which are full of holes, due to torrential water flows daily in the streets.

Then there is the main aqueduct, the Albear, which was built in the 19th century and designed for a population of 400,000. Today Havana is a city of over 2,500,000 inhabitants. The most critical situation in the water supply occurs in the municipalities of Arroyo Naranjo, Habana Vieja and Centro Habana.

In the late 80’s the El Gato water main, on the outskirts of the city, began to function. But between the severe drought, the absence of systematic repairs and the lack of spare parts, it is working at less than 50% capacity.

To reverse the delicate situation, the Institute of Hydraulic Resources intends to quickly implement 14 investments to alleviate the crisis. They are valued at 7.5 million convertible pesos (about $9 million) and involve placing 22 kilometers of pipes. If these works are not carried out soon, for spring, the deficit of water will reach 493,640 cubic meters of water.

In Havana, more than 70,000 families have no direct access to drinking water. They have to carry it in buckets, tanks and other containers. When stored, it becomes a dangerous breeding ground for the Aedes aegypti mosquito, a transmitter of deadly diseases such as dengue hemorrhagic fever.

Due to the scarcity of water in poor neighborhoods, there are people who are paid 100 pesos (5 dollars) to fill a 55-gallon tank. “In addition to earning money, I get exercise,” says Philip, a bodybuilder engaged in the business of carrying water.

If in the coming months the powerful drought continues, if water is squandered and doesn’t reach households and production centers, the government of General Raúl Castro will have a new headache. Another one.

Translated by Regina Anavy

January 25 2011