A recurrent meteorological phenomenon, drought, has been affecting since December several provinces, especially in eastern Cuba. The country’s second most important city, Santiago de Cuba, heads the territories under tension due to the shortage of available water. Messages are arriving, despite the fact that the national rain indicators hid the conflict in 2014 because of their acceptable general evolution.
In early February, Santiago’s reservoirs contained only 37.7 per cent of the water they can store, an insufficient amount for supplying the population and local agriculture. For the current drought period, according to the meteorological tradition, this is one of the lowest levels in recent years, according to the daily Granma and the National Information Agency (AIN).
The contraction is affecting the territory’s largest reservoirs, Protesta de Baraguá and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, which also provide water to another three provinces in eastern Cuba: Holguín, Granma and Guantánamo.
Six smaller reservoirs, which directly supply the city of Santiago, are suffering decreases, which have made it necessary to put in place contingency measures, like the supply of water through water trucks. The distribution cycles tend to grow longer. The group to face the drought is also giving orientations for the drilling of wells in urban and rural areas.
The first precipitations that occurred in Santiago, 40 days after the start of the year, were not very encouraging. They registered barely 6.3 millimetres of rainfall and “not precisely over the basin of the tributary rivers of those reservoirs,” according to the AIN report from Santiago de Cuba.
The province of Las Tunas, whose reservoirs are holding just 35 per cent of their potential capacity, activated a similar group to cover the water needs of some 80,000 persons from six municipalities, also though water trucks, AIN reported.
However, during 2014 and especially during the humid period (May to November), precipitations in Cuba had a favourable performance, according to the latest available bulletin of the Department for Rational Use of Water of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH). The rains of the eastern and central regions remained within the historic average, 101 and 100 per cent, respectively, while the western region, where the production of food and export tobacco are concentrated, only 86 per cent fell. The national rain stored reached up to 1,243 millimetres, which is 96 per cent of the historic data.
The 242 reservoirs managed by the INRH were storing 5.303 billion cubic metres, 58 per cent of the total capacity, at the end of the rainy season.
Cuba’s largest reservoir, the Zaza, located in the centre of the country, in early February was storing 50 per cent of its total capacity. Sufficient to cover the immediate demands of the region’s consumers, that volume was already generating concern since the country was in the middle of the dry season.
Though the INRH has still not given signs of alarm, experts from the Centre of Meteorology warn that the tendency of previous years continues, with an atypical performance of the rains: sporadic, very local and outside the basins and reservoirs. A meteorologist from Las Tunas, Camilo Más, reported that in the last 30 years the climate has become drier in that province, which is the one with the lowest index of precipitations in the country, an annual average of 1,038 millimetres.
To exploit more efficiently the water, the government has prioritised millions of pesos’ worth of investments in hydraulic works. Through the renovation of the thousands of metres of aqueducts in Santiago, Havana and other cities, the installation of new waterworks, the repair of canals and reservoirs, the INRH is making an effort to eliminate the leaks that steal around half of the distributed water, together with the cost of the energy used in moving that resource.
The drought has also affected agriculture. In 2014 the effects were specially felt by the crops that most depended on irrigation. The planting of agricultural produce like rice was below the planned amount. Sugarcane agriculture reported similar damages. Both crops, among those prioritised since some years ago by the programmes for agricultural renovation, are today facing the threat of an already usual enemy for the climate, nature and the Cuban economy. (2015)
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