Elio Delgado Legon
HAVANA TIMES — Year of mangos, year of hunger you used to hear pre-revolutionary Cuban farmers say and that’s because the year it didn’t rain enough for dryland farming, which was the majority in the country, flowers on the mango tree didn’t used to fall down, like when it rains too much, and so the mango harvest was good, but the rest of the crops, the majority, produced very little or almost nothing, and so it was really a year of hunger.
I spent many of these years of hunger in the Cuban countryside, and so nobody can tell me any stories. And that’s because before the Revolution, there was only dammed water in the Hanabanilla dam, which was used to generate electricity, and that’s why two critical situations used to take place:
1.- When it used to rain a lot, the countryside would flood and many crops and animals were lost, and even human lives, like when the Flora hurricane struck, but all of this water was going to end up in the sea.
2.- When it rained very little or not at all, farming production, which was the country’s main economic activity, didn’t have enough of this precious liquid for it to develop, as it only used to rely on underground water for irrigation, which can’t be overexploited, because if levels fall too much, sea water penetrates through and it becomes saline, which makes it useless for irrigation. Plus, the majority of farmers didn’t used to have all of the equipment they needed to exploit underground water.
It was during the Flora hurricane disaster, in October 1963, which led to almost 2000 deaths and huge losses, that the Commander in Chief Fidel Castro envisaged the need to build dams with the double purpose of preventing new floods and to conserve water, which used to go out to sea, to use it for irrigation and to supply cities, which were in a shortage of this liquid. This project, which was of huge importance for the country’s socio-economic development, was called the Hydraulic Willpower project.
The clearest result of the implementation of the Hydraulic Willpower project is that after more than 40 months of drought, agriculture still continues to produce, albeit with its expected limitations. Plus, dozens of aqueducts have been built in towns where there weren’t any and others were enlarged as they didn’t used to cover all of the population’s needs.
Today, the country has 242 dams which are managed by the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources, as well as other micro-dams and reservoirs to meet farming and livestock’s one-off needs. Out of this total, 77 dams are dedicated to supplying the Cuban population, which gives you an idea of just how precarious this service was before the Hydraulic Willpower project was born.
Today, after more than 40 months of drought, during which it has rained a lot less than it normally does, Cuba’s dams store 40% of their total capacity, and that’s why even using the most efficient irrigation methods and limited use, farming activity continues at acceptable levels.
If before the Revolution, a year of drought was a year of hunger for a country which had a little over five million inhabitants, what would that be like now, when there are now over 11 million inhabitants, and we have suffered over 40 months of drought, if the Hydraulic Willpower project hadn’t existed? It’s best not to even think about it.