Inefficiency, Not Drought, Is the Cause of Cuba’s Water Shortages

By Pilar Montes

Water cistern. Photo: voanews.com
Water cistern. Photo: voanews.com

HAVANA TIMES — Reinaldo and Estela rent out accommodations in Old Havana. Conversing with them about their businesses, they told Havana Times that their main problem isn’t the lack of customers but water shortages.

Reinaldo and Estela asked to remain anonymous, fearing reprisals from municipal authorities. Their homes are on San Ignacia and Luz streets, respectively.

“It’s not that this municipality isn’t being supplied with water, the problem is that we don’t get enough. If you add the fact that part of this water seeps away through leaks in the pipes or inside the buildings, then you see why water shortages become an almost daily struggle for us,” Reinaldo explained.

“It bothers me that the press and radio and television news programs often blame the tenants, when finding the materials to fix leaks is very difficult and, when these are available, they are sold at prices beyond the reach of the population,” Estela said.

At the Council of Ministers meeting held last weekend, the chairwoman of the National Water Resources Institute, Ines Maria Chapman, acknowledged that the inefficiency of the water distribution system causes yearly losses of 3.4 billion cubic meters every year (more than 50 percent of the water supplied), a figure that has now allegedly been reduced to 15 percent, according to official reports.

sequia_centrohabana havanatimes
Photo: Juan Suarez

When asked how these water problems in buildings and homes might be solved, those interviewed concurred that “the most immediate solution would be to find a driver of a water cistern truck.”

Reinaldo explained that “the tanker-trucks head directly to public buildings and State entities, but any distribution to private residences has to be pre-included on their roadmap, because they are barred from dealing directly with tenants and people who rent rooms, without previous authorization from their superiors.”

“They may deny it, but those responsible for monitoring the services offered by these drivers most likely benefit from the unregistered incomes they make,” he added.

Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/ipsnews.net
Photo: Jorge Luis Baños/ipsnews.net

“In fact,” he continued, “dealing directly with those in need of this service is the most profitable operation for them, as they charge anywhere between 10 and 15 Cuban Convertible Pesos (11.50 to 17.00 US dollars) “under the table,” depending on the size of the truck. What’s more, even though one or two tenants may be the ones who pay for the water, everyone benefits from this and no one complains or reports on the tanker-truck driver.”

With respect to complaints by tenants with leaks in their apartments, these two persons who rent out accommodations said that “these stem from the high prices of connecting tubes, faucets of different sizes, master taps, valves and toilet fittings, which low-income people can’t afford.”

“At the other end,” those interviewed pointed out, “we have hoarders who buy the water to resell it at three or four times the market price, the same thing that happens with building materials.”

A recently-published study on water distribution in Old Havana titled “Water Networks in the Old Town” points out that “nearly all of the drinking water consumed by residents of the old town is supplied through aqueduct networks.” Efforts aimed at modernizing and expanding the capacities of this system are bogged down by leaks in connecting pipes and in residences.


5 thoughts on “Inefficiency, Not Drought, Is the Cause of Cuba’s Water Shortages

  • The hotel programme for tourists must surely be extended to cover a housing project and rejuvenate Havana. Investment in public housing projects must be encouraged and supported by those in power.

  • Ah yes, the politburo! We, in the US, sure have problems but man is Cuba a mess! Cuba will not be able to handle the influx of tourists unless they clean up their act and it won’t be via the Fifty Fifth Congress of Useless and non-elected bureaucrats! Either the Castro boys get their act together or the fan will be hit by more than air!

  • Between the leaking raw sewage, mutilated carcasses of chickens, geese, goats and other animals sacrificed in Santería rituals and the overflowed garbage bins, too many streets in Central Havana are truly disgusting. Even outsourcing this mess would be national undertaking.

  • That is because they control the wrongs parts of the economy. A vibrant private sector paying taxes would support public service investment. At this point they should outsource even water and sewage, it would be more efficient.

  • I can tell you from first-hand experience that the sewage infrastructure is in worse condition that the fresh water system. Anybody who has walked the streets in Central Havana knows that nearly every block has a leak of raw sewage running down the street somewhere.

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