14ymedio, Justo Mora, Cienfuegos, 22 August 2018 — It’s four in the afternoon in Cienfuegos and the downpour begins. While the thunder rumbles on her old house near the José Martí park, in the heart of the city, the teacher Liuzmila Chacón hurriedly places some old containers to store as much rainwater as she can.
“As of two days ago the water doesn’t make it to the faucett, sometimes it comes with more force and with this small pump I manage to increase the water pressure, but most of the time I have to bend down into the tanks and fill bucket after bucket,” she explains.
The problem in the historic center of the city of Cienfuegos is nothing new, but contrasts with the current situation, where after the heavy rains the reservoirs of the island are at 83% capacity. For decades, Cienfuegueros have had to use all their ingenuity to get a few more drops from the old pipes that were installed during the Republican era.
“The provincial hospital runs out of water at 10 o’clock every night, including the emergency room, and doctors and nurses have to wash their hands with bags of saline because of the critical situation we have,” a nurse says on condition of anonymity. The situation is so dramatic that the water for cleaning the operating rooms is stored in a small tank to guarantee the supply.
Pablo Fuentes Chaviano, delegate of Hydraulic Resources in the province, explained to the weekly September 5 that the problem lies in the fact that the water pipeline in Paso Bonito is 50 years old and considerably deteriorated. Added to this are two more stations that have collapsed: one because a turbine burned out three months ago and another because an inadequate pump was installed.
“In the case of Paso Bonito there are four pumps, one of them is a reinforcement and when there is a deficit, as is the case, we put that into the system to strengthen the El Tunel route and the city. This one also burned up during [subtropical storm] Alberto, and it could not be fixed,” according to the official.
“In this block there are about ten people who have pumps to raise water to their tanks, so it does not reach others,” says Caridad (Caruca), a retired elderly woman who presides over one of the Defense Committees of Calle Casales.
In the last week the local press published reports about the difficult situation the city is facing. Some areas of Cienfuegos haven’t received water for as long as 30 days, so the neighbors have to rent water trucks or stock up from the few the Government sends.
“With the water trucks there is always a tremendous line and social indiscipline is the order of the day,” says Caruca, who says he knows neighbors who buy water “from trucks, under the table” at 20 CUC.
Orlando López Torres, director of engineering for the Aqueduct and Sewer agency, says that “of the 860 liters per second that was available as an average to distribute in the city, there are only 760 today.”
He attributed that loss of 100 liters per second to the numerous leaks in the hydraulic network, which, in addition, has 26 broken valves belonging to Aqueduct and Sewers’ own facilities.
“The problem is not so much the water that is pumped as that which is lost. In the country 3.400 million liters are lost every year through leaks,” a retired hydraulic engineer tells 14ymedio.
“What is the solution they offer for that?” It is not to fix the pipes, because that would be easy. “They prefer to pump more, and in the meantime promote the president of Hydraulic Resources, Inés María Chapman Waugh, to vice president of the State Council” he adds, annoyed.
The shortage has consequences for the local economy. Idolidia León, owner of a room to rent for tourists, complains that she barely has water to clean once a week.
“I pay my contributions punctually, it’s incredible that the historic center of the city, which has been declared a World Heritage Site, has been without water for 10 days. I was not able to rent the room,” says this former literature professor.
“It must be the damn circumstance of water everywhere, as Virgilio Piñera said, everywhere, except in the taps.”
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