Havana, Between the Scarcity of Water and the Rains
Havana, Between the Scarcity of Water and the Rains / Ivan Garcia
Posted on June 10, 2015
Iván García, 8 June 2015 — This is the current scenario. About 60,000
families receive their drinking water by tanker trucks. 60% of the water
distributed is lost due to breakdowns in the hydraulic system. 20% of
that water is wasted due to leaks within homes. Havana Water, the city’s
water utility, and state industries are responsible for losing 80%.
Water is pumped in the neighborhoods on alternate days. In remote
districts of the city, the supply may be provided every four days. Water
scarcity causes many families to improvise to collect the precious liquid.
Substandard water storage is the leading cause of epidemics like dengue
fever or chikungunya, which cause dozens of deaths every year. Or the
outbreak of cholera, a disease that had been eradicated in Cuba since
the early twentieth century.
Neglect and deterioration of public sewers cause flooding in the city
with even light rains. In other bad news, which the regime can’t be
blamed for, 63% of the country is affected by drought, with reservoirs
in a critical state at only 39% capacity.
According to the engineer Antonio Castillo, deputy director of
operations at Aguas de Havana, the situation is unsustainable in the
medium and long term. “The supply basins are like bank accounts. If you
invest, but you withdraw more than you deposit, you have less each time,
and if you stop saving, one day you won’t have any money. The same thing
happens with water,” he told the official press.
The lethal combination of leaks, bad workmanship, lack of foresight, and
drought, has placed a red asterisk by water, not only in Havana, but
also in the rest of the country.
If you walk at night in some Havana neighborhoods, you will see how
water is wasted by broken pipes. At Espadero and Figueroa, in Reparto
Sevillano, thousands of gallons of water are lost through leaks in the
public networks. At the corner of October 10 Road and San Francisco, in
Lawton, the street becomes a river.
On January 17, 2000, the National Institute of Water Resources and the
Water Group of Barcelona, created Havana Water, a joint venture company.
What does Havana Water do? Little or nothing. The neighbors are tired of
complaining to the water system.
“One morning they come and make a sloppy repair that in a few hours is
damaged again. They argue that because of the poor condition of the
networks, the water pressure bursts many old pipes. All the specialists
are experts at diagnosing the problem, but not at fixing it,” said
Augusto, a resident of October 10th and San Francisco.
Not far away, in the building where Hiram lives on Carmen Street, also
in Lawton, the tank overflows and an appreciable amount of water is
wasted because they don’t have a single float.
“In multi-family buildings, painting the exterior, maintaining the water
pump, and repairing the facade are supposed to be the responsibility of
the state. But state agencies don’t lift a finger, so the residents have
to manage everything,” notes Hiram.
Havana Water is replacing thousands of kilometers of pipes at a snail’s
pace, but the poor quality of work has aggravated some within the
populace. In Old Havana the water supply network is currently being
replaced. It is scheduled to be completed in 2017 at a cost of more than
The slow pace of work has led to the closure of many roads, turning the
crowded streets into an obstacle course. Thoughtless people also throw
garbage into the trenches, creating a foul stench that pervades the area.
But the ones who are worse off are those living in low-lying areas of
the capital. In addition to water shortages, they live on the razor’s
edge every time a rainstorm assaults Havana.
“I pray every time there’s bad weather. Over here everything floods. And
with the rains of April 29th, because of the flooding, hundreds of
families lost their belongings,” says Reinerio, a neighbor in Jesús
María, a poor area in the old part of the city.
More than a month has passed since those rains and the state
institutions have only given mattresses to the victims. “Nothing is
free. They sell the mattresses for 900 pesos (about 45 dollars) on
credit. They won’t replace refrigerators, televisions, or other ruined
appliances. People are very disgusted with the government, because of
the little help provided to families who have nothing and no place to
go,” says Felicia, a housewife.
And there is no solution in sight. As I said at the beginning, it is a
combination of factors. State negligence causes 60% of the water to be
lost. The empty wallets of a large segment of the Cuban people prevent
them from repairing the water system in their homes.
Many poor families live in constant fear of the rains, and now the
hurricane season (June 1 to November 30). Add to the fury of nature the
regime’s mismanagement. They are surrounded. And defenseless.
Source: Havana, Between the Scarcity of Water and the Rains / Ivan
Garcia | Translating Cuba –