The drought in Cuba could stop being a crisis and become a chronic disease, as is already the case in many other countries. The only way out seems to be to devise a global strategy that allows us and requires a responsible use of that natural resource.
However, the Cuban parliament postponed the debate on a water use law, despite the fact that the main economic areas of the economy involve greater use of water without specific policies to confront the huge losses in the distribution pipes and at homes that equals half of what is pumped.
The government is committed to increasing food production to reduce imports but agriculture is precisely the activity that consumes the most water. Logically, as the land under cultivation grows, water consumption increases.
According to some specialists, it is not a matter of reducing food production but of establishing irrigation protocols for each crop, preventing waste. This, in addition to creating storage mechanisms for as much rainwater as possible on the farms.
Much of Cuba’s land is extremely compacted, which means poor drainage into the subsoil. This, added to the high temperatures, causes that a part of the scarce rains that fall in the national territory evaporate almost immediately.
The other major consumer of water is tourism. A foreign visitor staying at a hotel uses about 350 liters of water daily. This means that the 4 million tourists who arrive on the island consume a minimum of 1.4 billion liters each day.
The economy cannot do without tourism, but hotels can be required to install water recycling equipment and irrigate green areas at the first or last hours of the day and not at noon, which is when the greatest evaporation is caused.
One should also think about future development plans, especially the desirability or not of creating numerous golf courses, bearing in mind that, while they can produce a lot of money, they are very high consumers of fresh water.
Another major obstacle to a responsible use of water is the leaks in the distribution networks and in homes. According to the Institute of Hydraulic Resources, about 45% of what is pumped is lost. This situation causes ecological, economic and health problems.
In addition to losing the vital liquid to the leaks, twice the effort is necessary for the pumping, consuming double the amount of fuel oil. Likewise they water company must add large amounts of chlorine to the water to attack what can enter the system through the leaky pipes. The country spends a lot and provides the consumer with a product with more chemicals than is recommended.
Although the government has already begun work, the cost of repairing the distribution networks is enormous, a task that the national economy may not be able to finance alone. Virtually everything needs to be replaced because closing the leaks multiplies the pressure on the old pipes, opening many new leaks.
There are also leaks inside the dwellings, which will not be fixed while the cost of a faucet is equal to the monthly salary of a worker. A few years ago in Havana repairs were made free of charge for 2,500 dwellings. Maybe that path is cheaper in the long run.
The scarcity of water is not a simple issue; I would not dare to bet on solutions because I do not have the necessary knowledge, what’s more I think nobody has them. It is a matter to analyze in a diverse scientific group that studies all the angles.
The Cuban media have already started talking about drought, which is a very positive step because it allows the population to visualize and become aware of the problem. However, given its seriousness, perhaps it should have a greater media presence.
In contrast, the country continues to take superficial and contradictory measures. While prohibiting the construction of swimming pools they supply water to all public fountains, prioritizing urban aesthetics over protection of an increasingly scarce natural resource.
There is a need for a national strategy that looks for resources to change the distribution networks and incorporates the problem into all economic projects. It must also include sealing the domestic leaks and creates a culture of saving in the population, because no scarcity will be as terrible as that of water.
Translation: Havana Times