Isbel Diaz Torres
HAVANA TIMES – Even though Cuba’s National Environmental Strategy Report identifies the “water shortage” as one of the island’s five main problems, the Cuban government aims to export bottled water to other countries in the Caribbean.
According to an article published in Havana Times, a new manufacturing plant with “cutting edge” Italian technology began production at the beginning of September. The trade name of the bottled water produced there is Sierra Canasta, a mountain range in Guantanamo, whose springs provide the company with the precious liquid.
Sierra Canasta is to compete with the only domestic manufacturer Cuba had to date, Ciego Montero. It is reported that it will sell a water bottle of 600 mL (100 mL more than what its predecessor offers) for a similar price.
With the installed capacity to date, it is estimated that some 144 thousand boxes of the product will be produced each year. That amount is enough to supply all of TRD, Palmares and CIMEX stores (as well as the tourism industry) in the island’s eastern region.
According to the news piece, the potential of this manufacturing plant, built with funds from the Cuban State and the Spanish International Cooperation for Development Agency, is far greater (over 400 thousand boxes a year), something which will make it possible for Cuba to “begin to gain a market among countries in the Caribbean basin.”
Though the environmental report issued by the Cuban Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment (CITMA) reports that the island “lacks an adequate monitoring system to assess the quality of its land and marine waters,” it seems that the dividends expected are far more persuasive.
Globally, the production of bottled water can cost anywhere between 0.25 to 2 US dollars per bottle. According to Bottledwaterblues, 90% of this money is spent on manufacturing the bottle, the label and the caps.
Eastern Cuba’s Water Situation
The report issued by CITMA alerts us to the fact that “the drought (…) and other phenomena caused by human intervention (…) are causing broad coastal areas and dry expanses of land around the country to experience significant processes of desertification, which tend to be more intense in Cuba’s eastern regions.”
Towns in Cuba’s east such as Baguanos and Tacajo have been practically devoid of water for decades owing to the degradation or contamination of the water table. The town’s inhabitants have no access to any infrastructure that can supply them with water.
“Repeated and destructive droughts, combined with high evaporation rates, lead to the exhaustion of soils and the reduction of underground water reserves,” the report states.
One of the priorities of the Water Resources Institute for Cuba’s eastern region is supplying communities with water, sanitizing the environment and the restoring of the water distribution networks in areas most severely affected by drought, Rolando Calzada, director of this institute, announced during the recent International Hydraulic Engineering Congress.
He also pointed out that another priority is to guarantee that areas being developed for tourism are supplied with the vital liquid. Now, we have a clear sense of how they hope to achieve this.
The Impact of Bottled Water Production
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and hundreds of other environmentalist movements around the world have called on people to begin consuming less bottled water. Their campaigns claim that bottled water is not any better than tap water, and that its production generates waste materials that are difficult to recycle.
According to Annie Leonard, an expert on the subject, bottled water companies have “manufactured a demand” for their product. To achieve this, they scare the public with news about the contamination of a number of water sources, many a time polluted by the very industries that produce the plastic bottles.
The fact of the matter is that, many a time, bottled water meets less sanitary regulations than tap water and even tastes worse. Regardless of what the seductive labels showing natural landscapes may suggest, on occasion, bottled water actually comes right out of the tap (but costs 2 thousand times more money).
Marketing strategies deceive the consumer and conceal the fact, for instance, that, in the United States, 80% of empty plastic bottles end up in the countryside, where they take thousands of years to decompose. Or they end up in incinerators, where they are burned, releasing toxic fumes into the atmosphere. Many are also dumped into the ocean.
Only a small fraction of these bottles are recycled, that is to say, a good share are exported to countries like India, where they are deposited in gigantic garbage dumps. Who’s to say that the same thing doesn’t happen in the poor nations of the Caribbean, including Cuba?
“In 2030, nearly half the global population will face a water crisis, the level of demand is expected to be 40 per cent higher than the available supply,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon stated some days ago in Budapest, during the opening of the Water Summit.
Ignoring such warnings and turning a deaf ear on the UN leader’s call to “combat the unsustainable use of water,” the Cuban government plans on selling the scant reserves of the precious liquid available in Cuba’s eastern regions in hard currency and hopes to export it to other nations of the Caribbean.
Despite the fact that the bottled water business has begun to show signs of decline around the world, Cuba aspires to enter it precisely now, through an initiative that need not be approved by local authorities, as these decisions are made by the central government.
On the other hand, the precarious situation of Cuba’s civic environmental organizations makes it impossible to exert any significant pressure on the company and the country’s leadership, a situation exacerbated by a maddening lack of any direct information about these issues.