More than 40 months of drought in Cuba

Elio Delgado Legon

Hydraulic Will. The years from 1959-1979.

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.

23 thoughts on “More than 40 months of drought in Cuba

  • Elio demonstrates his ignorance of Cuba’s abysmal agricultural production when he writes:
    “farming activity continues at acceptable levels”
    Elio echoes the inadequacies of the Castro communist regime, for even the average man in the streets of Cuba, knows that Cuban agriculture is in dire straits. Communist policies reap a harvest of inadequacies.

  • Good to see you speaking up for Jon, Nick.

  • I’m glad to have made you happy Nick.

  • I think it virtually certain that……..
    I like that opening phrase.
    It would be a good plan going forward to start off all your commentaries with that opening phrase.

  • I think it virtually certain that Russian aid financed the dams, the Castro economy was incapable of meeting such costs, but the dams are necessary and welcome.
    But, the Castro regime has failed to maintain the infrastructure for distribution of that water supply, it has failed to repair obvious leaks that are there for all to behold. but even more important it has failed to address future requirements necessary for a developing economy. What are they doing to address that?
    Endless meetings of the appointed communist delegates being endlessly addressed by the favoured few achieve nothing.

  • Yes, I have.
    And I think Moses makes a good point when he says of US AID, “For a price, of course.” If the US had seen some benefit to itself in financing dams in Cuba, they would have done so.
    I do not mean to suggest that Americans, as a people, are any less generous than any other people. Nor do I mean to suggest that the US government is the only government that uses foreign aid to to pursue its own objectives.

    And that brings us back to the original point of the article. The dams were built under the Castro government. Moses suggests that this was done with aid from the Soviet Union and I don’t know enough to say if he is right or if he is wrong.
    As far as we know, no previous government tried to build such a system of dams. We don’t know if any Cuban government approached the US to ask for aid and we don’t know how the US might have responded.

  • For a price, of course.

  • Curiosity Ken, in response to Moses’ question. Have you heard of the Marshall Plan?

  • If Batista had asked, would the US have assisted in building a system of dams?

  • As a satelite of the USSR, at much as one-third of the Cuban GDP was related to Soviet subsidies. Would the US have helped Cuba under different circumstances? Have you heard of the Marshall Plan?

  • Did this project depend on aid from the Soviet Union? Perhaps it did.
    But the Soviet Union was not the only source of aid to Third World countries. If Batista had approached the US to ask for help, would they have funded the dams?

  • As is so often the case a Mr MacD comment is long on apportioning blame but short on factual accuracy.
    In addition you are inferring that Elio is either mistaken or lying when he mentions drought.
    As you like to portray yourself as some kind of resident expert you will surely be aware that the island of Cuba does not have one homogeneous weather system.
    There are parts of Cuba where regular thunderstorms and downpours occur (Havana Province would be an example). But this is not the case in all other parts of the island.
    Other parts of the island can experience long periods of drought.
    Last time I was in Ciego Province the farmers there were saying that there had been no significant rainfall in over a year. This is not uncommon.
    You really should try to make more of an effort to get your facts straight Mr MacD.
    You’re commentaries would come across as a bit more a convincing if you did more fact checking.

  • Touissaint L’Overture led a successful ‘slaves revolt’ in Haiti at the end of the eighteenth century. The very first of it’s kind. From then on the USA stamped down it’s ‘jack boot’ on the fledgling country at every available opportunity in order that such a revolt would not be inspired in the cotton fields of the USA.
    It is not easy for a country such as Haiti to recover from victimisation by superpowers such as France and then subsequently the USA.
    But Toussaint L’Overture always stood as a shining example for the US Civil Rights Movement and it’s eventual overturning of the US Apartheid System over a century and a half later.

  • Excellent copy of your contribution to the Zimbabwean of six months ago.
    However, the most effective change in planting on agricultural scale dating back in the UK some twenty years, is bed-growing. The staggered planting on beds that can be up to 108″ wide does effectively result in triangular spacing. The benefits for root crops in particular are substantial. Placing a plastic irrigation tube down the centre of the bed, reduces water consumption as there is little evaporation. The foliage cover is equal and maximises light exposure.
    The equipment necesssary to employ the system is not cheap, but can cover a substantial acreage. Yields of potatoes of over 30 tons per acre are regularly achieved.
    That brings us back to Cuba where the agricultural policy is opposed to farming on the scale necessary to achieve efficient production. I do know that a proposal to a European farming business to approach the Government of Cuba to contract production using up-to date systems, was rejected by the company concerned because they would be unable to reward the staff properly. Efficient businesses seek to control their own production, not to be directed by dictatorship.

  • No previous government had a USSR sugardaddy to foot the bill.

  • Crow’s Footing, an aid to increasing crop production

    For those keen on agriculture I would
    like to draw your attention to ‘Crow’s Footing,’ which is a way of
    planting seeds that was told to me by my grandfather, Stanley Buxton.
    Instead of planting seeds in a set distance between rows we can use
    equilateral triangles to plant the seeds. The rows are closer together
    but the seed rows are planted out of sync with the rows on either side.
    In this way he found it possible to increase food production by 15% on
    his market garden. This is an interesting statistic for those with
    ‘green fingers’ and I have been campaigning to have it used in the Third
    World for many years. Not only can the amount of ‘cash crops’ be
    increased, but more importantly, so can subsistence crops, which are
    much more important.

    Mathematical Proof

    We must subtract the triangle are used
    from the square area used, so we must use Pythagoras to work out the
    distance between rows of a crop planted in triangles, the unit of length
    being the distance that any particular plant has to be away from any

    Height of a triangle can be worked out:

    a squared + b squared (the height) = c squared

    b squared = c squared – a squared

    b squared = 1 squared- 0.5 squared

    b squared = 1 – 0.25

    b squared = 0.75

    b = square root of 0.75

    b= 0.866

    Given that the distance between plants is the same whether planted in squares or triangles then:

    1-0.866 = 0.134

    Thus reducing size of earth needed by 13.4%, which means that:

    1 / 0.866 approximately equals 1.155, or 15% crop increase

    For example, a field of 100 x 100 units (
    a unit being the distance between plants) could have 10,000 square
    planted plants, but a field of the same size planted in equilateral
    triangles could have 10,000 divided by 0.866 = 11547 plants, an increase
    of 1,547 plants. Who needs expensive Genetically Modified crops (1.7%
    crop increase) with that free increase?

    It must be noted that if a crop only has
    two rows, then there will be no benefit in cropping in equilateral
    triangles if there are seven or less plants in each row due to the edge
    of the triangle at each end wasting a small amount of space, any greater
    cultivated area than this gives an advantage.

  • Do you think Papa Doc’s dictatorship was preferable in Haiti Jon? Incidentally, speaking of the black population of Haiti, what percentage of the total do they represent?

  • In the months of July, August, September and October, thunderstorms between 2,30 and 4.00 p.m. are a daily occurrence in Cuba. Water runs down the streets in torrents. There is no shortage of water, only lack of catchment systems, tiny Israel with so little rain, designed catchment systems to enable making the desert bloom. Cuba is much more fortunate. But the maintenance of infrastructure including water supplies in Cuba is incompetent. Water runs down the streets when it isn’t raining!

  • Moses says, “Its reasonable to assume that 2017 Cuba, regardless of the type of government in place, would be technologically more advanced than 1959 Cuba.”
    I see his point. It is hard to imagine that Cuba would have remained unchanged, under any government.
    At the same time, I can’t imagine that Hurricane Flora was the first time that Cuba had been flooded in this way. Did any previous government say or do anything to suggest that they intended to build a system of dams?

  • Well, 2017 Haiti is probably worse off than in the past. Unlike Cuba, Haiti is under the thumb of the capitalist system and virtually nothing is done on behalf of the Black population, except to exploit them.

  • Its reasonable to assume that 2017 Cuba, regardless of the type of government in place, would be technologically more advanced than 1959 Cuba. That would include water delivery systema advances. To give all the credit to the Castros for infrastructure improvements demands that the dictatorship takes all the blame for the same systems crumbling infrastructure. Cuban government experts estimate that more than 50% of the potable water leaks out the system between filtration and the home tap. It’s probably more than that. If Elio wants to give the Castro full credit for the Hydraulic Willpower Project, be should also blame them for not modernizing and maintaining the system.

  • Jose, incredible post and message. As you and I along with many on this board know, Elio
    Delgado is sincere. The difficulty I have, along with Jose Gonzalez is BASTA! Stop blaming everything except the system. We have problems in the US but address it constantly. Gracias, Jose.

  • It seems to me that “everything bad” happened prior to 1959 if you read his postings, all of them. Well, I was young then and spent lots of time between Sta Clara, Rodas, Cienfuegos & Trinidad and we never were left without or worried about being without water, and there were no “embalses” as he has stated. You cannot, also, say that the Cuban people were huingry back then, I think not. How about now? Look, I am not a true Capitalist and definitely not a communist although as far as I am concerned the usage of the terms socialist & communist do not apply to Cuba, try better Fidelismo, I am a Catholic that believes in helping the poor and disenfranchised in the world and that also believes that homeland only one even though I am an American citizen by choice I have no hatred for Cuba nor its government, that is an inside situation, but you cannot continue to blame the problems and situations of The Island on others. The fact remains that weather patterns affect all of us wherever we are. The fact is that relieving the past, and in ways that are not always true, is a worthless cause, sounds like Trump speaking about the 2016 election and Ms. Clinton over and over again. The hunger that you are mentioning can, if the past one was true, to what is happening there now. The destruction of the cattle business, sugar crops, etc. have to be blamed on the existing government, not the past even as pathetic and corrupted as it was.

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