Drought Looming Again in Cuba

Patricia Grogg

Photo by Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, May 4 (IPS) — As Cuba feels the impact of a drought that is affecting the entire Caribbean region, authorities have stepped up calls for water savings in households and the public sector.

“I don’t know how I could possibly cut my water use, because our building is already receiving a lot less water than before, to the point that we’re switching on the motor (to pump water to the apartments) only once a day,” Havana resident Ana Martínez commented to IPS.

In the central city of Santa Clara, Rubén Torres hopes the May rains will come on time, for the sake of his crops. To irrigate his fields and give water to his livestock, he uses a manmade pond that is fed by a small stream running across his land.

But he told IPS that the water level in the stream and pond had dropped significantly.

A government report released in mid-April said large areas of Cuba have been suffering the effects of a prolonged drought that began in November 2008.

The shortage of rain has led to a significant drop in water levels in the country’s reservoirs and has hurt the availability of groundwater, affecting water supplies for more than 500,000 people in this Caribbean island nation of 11.2 million, says the report by the civil defense authority, the agency in charge of prevention measures.

The Meteorology Institute’s Climate Centre, meanwhile, said that the overall scarcity of rainfall from April 2009 to March 2010 “clearly indicated the magnitude of the drought, which has affected 68 percent of the national territory” in that time period.

According to the Climate Centre, rainfall shortage has been slight in 23 percent of the island, “moderate to severe” in 33 percent, and “extreme” in 12 percent.

The worst-hit provinces are Las Tunas, Holguín, Granma and Santiago de Cuba on the eastern end of the island.

By the end of the dry season in late April, the water in many of the country’s reservoirs was less than half the normal level.

The rainy season in Cuba begins in May and stretches to October. But the water supply is largely replenished by the tropical storms that bring intense rains, although they also frequently cause destructive flooding and gale force winds as well.

A severe drought directly affected two million people and more than 900 villages and towns in Cuba in 2004 and 2005, while 2009 had the fourth lowest rainfall total in 109 years, according to official sources.

Although the current shortage of rainfall is a problem, conditions are not as severe as the drought seen in the last few years, which according to official estimates caused some 1.2 billion dollars in losses for Cuba and made it necessary to provide water supplies to 2.6 million people by means of water trucks, mainly in the eastern provinces of Camaguey, Las Tunas and Holguín.

Experts at the Climate Centre warn that although periodic droughts form part of the natural weather variability in Cuba, studies show that they have become more frequent and intense over the last 40 years.

The government is investing large sums in the renovation of the country’s rundown water system, which has compromised household supplies, and in a major water project in nine of the country’s 14 provinces, involving dams, canals and tunnels.

The project is aimed at making use of the rainfall and rivers in the mountains in eastern and central Cuba to counteract the effects of drought and meet the needs of the population and farmers.

Agriculture accounts for 70 percent of global water consumption, and as much as 95 percent of consumption in some developing countries. And according to the U.N.-backed World Commission on Water, 100 billion dollars a year are needed to tackle global water scarcity.

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