By Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – Cuba’s public water supply is one of our society’s most chronic problems, that has endured and spread in recent decades. It is in a critical situation nationwide, but I will only talk about what is happening in Mayari, Holguin, which is my town.
This valley is abundant in water. That’s why a huge dam was built between the two mountain ranges, Nipe and Cristal, to carry this valuable fluid to Camaguey, via the well-advertised East-West Bypass. You would think that such infrastructure would first benefit those of us who live nearest to it, even more so if you bear in mind the role gravity plays in supplying water to the valley.
However, over a decade after the dam was opened, benefits are minimal. Only a small fraction of arable land is irrigated and the local population hasn’t seen any improvements to their water supply. Which, by the way, continues to come from the same traditional wells it always has and has always been insufficient for many reasons: a lack of electrical pumps, of electricity for pumping, quality motors and tanks.
Now, in times of more severe crisis, the situation has got a lot worse as a result of greater restrictions on electricity consumption in the Aqueduct and Drainage company (which is called Holagua here in Holguin, but should rather be called Adiosalagua). The town’s water supply is insufficient and for the first time, people are wandering the streets with bottles in hand. Not to mention things are a lot worse in rural neighborhoods.
For example, in Guayabo, a rural town which has an aqueduct that was donated by a German NGO over 15 years ago, there are still homes without water even with this infrastructure in place. Just imagine, if local water supplies weren’t enough when the electricity supply was stable, when water was being pumped three times a week for five-hour periods, now it is only being pumped twice a week… a lot less.
It was residents eternal complaint to their representatives, which has been cast aside all these years. “It’s worse than ever now,” Yurina says, “we don’t even get a single drop anymore. And we are using stream water for everything, except for drinking water, which we have to go looking for a long way away from here. We are scared because they have found three giant African snails in the river and people say they are really dangerous,” she says worried.
Kenia, like many others, has also been experiencing the same thing for months now: “We have a new-born at home and knowing that the water in the stream is potentially dangerous, we still have to use it. There are pigsties further up, we don’t know if the water is contaminated or not. People bathe their horses, feed their animals and then, there’s the problem of these snails. All of this just to save some kilowatts!!! I think it would be a lot worse if someone were to get sick, it would cost the State a lot more and the suffering would be worse.”
The energy saving program is part of the government’s strategy to tackle the current crisis, labeled by the population as “a new Special Period”. However, more than this, it is a restrictive program to limit energy consumption and carriers. An imposed savings program which isn’t based on logic or better efficiency indicators, but on limiting production and stopping basic services.
The fuel deficit is the result of a lack of chronic liquid funds in the Cuban economy, which depends on revenue linked to politicking and ideology, not on our real national strengths; and also on the crackdown of the economic embargo by the US’ current administration, led by Donald Trump, which was driven by the Cuban government’s ties to Nicolas Maduro’s dictatorship in Venezuela.
Our country had very beneficial supplies that it has lost and now it finds itself forced to buy crude oil at market prices, without credit and navigating Washington’s threat to oil tanker ships and companies.
However, when it comes to water, which is essential, people are forced to find alternatives, which seem to be a lot more expensive than the kilowatts the government is saving. In the case of rural neighborhoods, there is no other alternative but to go to streams and rivers where the risk of contracting disease is higher. And in cities, they end up using more water tankers, which is a lot more expensive, there’s no doubt about it.
It would be worth Diaz-Canel’s advisers time to sit down and reflect upon these economic details and about the hardship they are causing the Cuban people by limiting the water supply. Another disaster to add to the already distressing struggle to survive in an anomalous country, where almost nothing, or nothing, works as it should.