In a War Against Leaks

Osmel Almaguer

HAVANA TIMES — The landscaping could easily be that of any one of the many green spaces that often adorn our city. The sparkling water could be a river, a small pond or something of that sort. But it’s not.

Rather, it’s a flood of sewage waste caused by a leak.

This discharge, which was recently tapped in zone 24 of the Alamar neighborhood, lasted for only a few days. Its central location forced the authorities to act quickly. However we’re not always so lucky when it comes to these failures. Usually it takes weeks, months or even years before repair work begins.

Over the last several days I’ve been troubled by the existence of several leaks and pools of water in several parts of the capital. Sometimes these aren’t so centrally located, so I guess they’ll be more difficult for the utility company to prioritize for repairs.

In these cases it’s necessary for residents to report these problems, especially because what’s at stake are the lives of our children.

Each of these “pools” — some so deep you could swim in them — is a danger not only in relation to that contagious disease transmitted by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but also because of the plagues and bacteria that can develop in such filthy water.

From the middle of last decade’s “Energy Revolution,” I recall that water too represents energy, and that it would be intelligent to tackle the problems of our water supply, drainage, sewerage, and other aspects of leaking water present in our country.

Statistics broadcast by the media alerted us to the fact that about half the water pumped here in the Cuban capital doesn’t reach its destination because of leaks.

They say that water is life, and if that’s the case then life is trickling away. But water is also money, because it costs a lot to process and pump it. So how many millions are there of us who say we haven’t been squandering water in recent years?


4 thoughts on “In a War Against Leaks

  • “Cuba stays silent about deadly cholera outbreak”

    Cuba, especially the eastern third of the island, is suffering through an alarming outbreak of cholera — as well as the mosquito-borne dengue fever — brewed in its decrepit water and sewer systems and fueled by Hurricane Sandy’s floods, according to residents.

    More than a dozen deaths have been reliably reported. Hospitals and prisons have been quarantined at times. Schools have been shut down, and so have restaurants and street kiosks selling juices and other products made with water.

    Government buildings have established hand and shoe disinfection stands at their entrances. Some public health officials have gone door to door asking if anyone is suffering from diarrhea, vomiting or fevers, and others distributed water purification tablets.

    The government jailed the doctor who first reported a dengue epidemic in 2000 for more than a year, and is now holding Calixto Ramón Martínez Arias, the independent journalist who first reported the cholera outbreak in Manzanillo.

    And Santiago blogger Janis Hernandez wrote that several young children playing on a sidewalk recently were chanting, “Cholera’s going around, cholera’s going around … I am going to inject you. Better wash your hands.”

    Scores of other cases were reported in Guantánamo, Ciego de Avila, Yateras, Baracoa, Maisí, Palma Soriano, San Luis, Palmarito de Cauto, Songo-La Maya, Sagua de Tánamo and Antilla. Guantánamo’s Agostinho Neto Provincial Hospital alone saw 80 suspected cases, said one resident who asked for anonymity.

    Smaller numbers of cholera cases were reported in western Cuba and Havana. But the capital is suffering through an outbreak of dengue, also known as Breakbone Fever. A 1981 epidemic killed 158 Cubans and affected 344,000 more.

    So many dengue cases are now jamming Havana hospitals that long-running shortages of medicines, needles, bandages, chlorine, soap and other supplies are turning into emergencies, according to several recent dissident reports.

    What’s more, Cuba’s water and sewer systems are so deteriorated after decades of little or no maintenance that experts say it will be impossible to stop future outbreaks of contagious diseases like cholera and dengue.

  • After reading this article, I tried to stay away, not comment on it, because it hits to close to my Cuban heart, who dedicated much of my professional life in Cuba working with infectious (transmissible diseases) and later in the United States with Environmental Health and Safety issues. What a personal tragedy!

    Although most of the discussions taking place on this and tens of other Cuba related blogs are related to housing, transportation, salaries, education, healthcare, food, internet, travel abroad, clothing, energy and others, nothing comes as close and exert a greater negative impact on the past, present and future of our country, as the subject of this article.

    Cuba has the perfect conditions of humidity, temperature, sunlight, poor hygiene, failing infrastructure, overcrowded areas etc, for each and everyone of these transmissible agents that are creating fear, havoc, sickness and deaths among our population, to grow, mutate, increase their virulence, proliferate and kill.

    Not talking about it, not developing an aggressive project to eradicate the root causes or fearing to loose someone’s job or position for speaking out or accepting in silence palliative measures such as fumigating, desinfecting, knocking and doors, filling out questionaires or isolating patients, is a first step which will not end the infect, re-infect, sickens and perpetuates this danger in our environs.

    Until the Cuban government comes up with a final solution, whatever the cost maybe, of providing every community with purified drinking water, replacement of the entire nation water distribution system, replace the entire sewer system, build wastewater treatment facilities for every large town and cities in Cuba and introduce a minimum self treatment (oxydation ponds) to small communities, are the only ways of ending this vicious cycle, before the problem becomes bigger and more deadly.

    Griffin suggested that 5.7 billion will be needed to deal with this tragedy. Sadly, it will be more like 75-100 billion dollars or more. The good news, is that this huge investment, would create immediately 50,000 badly needed, well remunarated jobs, it could solve the nation most critical and dangerous hazard by the year 2020, it would eliminate once and for all, the contamination of all superficial and groundwater which ends up in our bodies through drinking water, vegetables or swimming, it could turn Cuba into one of the healthiest country in our hemisphere, native and visitors will not fear being in Cuba; if we only decided to introduce minimum structural changes into the nation present management system, by leasing or turning into joint ventures, thousands of poorly operated commercial buildings, transportation, improductive industries, vacant agriculture and home site lands, whose trillion dollar income would enable every Cuban to own a hurricane-proof, sanitary approved personal homes, which would in turn, create a substantial cost reduction in health, education, civil defense and labor loss associated with these disasters.

  • The water supply and sewage systems in Cuba are in a serious state of decay. Existing facilities are inadequate and in poor state of repair. Estimates for the investments needed to bring the systems up to standard range up to $5.7 billion.


  • When a building near my casa particular collapsed this January and killed four young people, one of whom was the daughter of a friend of mine, many of us in the barrio mourned together and lamented regarding the sad state of the infrastructure in Havana. One man said to me “if the pipes which run beneath the streets are made from the same materials that the buildings are made of and these pipes carry water to our homes and sewage away from our homes is it any wonder that we have these problems with leaks and open sewage. The buildings are falling down around us and they are not subjected to the constant corrosion of water and sewage. Most of this infrastructure is 80 or more years old.” Never truer words spoken.

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