Drought threat returns

Several of Cuba’s provinces are reporting a deficit of rain and water collected in reservoirs, which worries the population, farmers and authorities.

The country’s second most important city is implementing urgent measures to mitigate the effects of the drought.

The drought season began in Cuba with a worrisome advance: the water collected in the country’ reservoirs contained around half of their capacity at the end of spring and summer, the rainy season. Even though TV news programmes rule out that the drought has become generalised, other press reports admit that it is already present in several provinces. The main signs of alarm come from Pinar del Río, on the island’s westernmost tip, and from the eastern region, traditionally the most affected by the lack of water: Santiago de Cuba, Granma and Las Tunas, are registering a severe deficit.

According to reports of the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INHR), at the close of August the country’s more than 900 reservoirs were only storing 4.947 billion cubic metres, 54 per cent of their total capacity. Judging by more recent reports, the situation tends to get worse.

The water collected at the end of the eighth month implies a slight decrease, 126 million cubic metres, compared to the amount accumulated in July. But the decrease is more sensitive, some 400 million cubic metres, in relation to the historic average for this time of the year.

This year it has rained less. The national average of 143.9 millimetres of precipitations during the eighth month of the year represented 89 per cent of the monthly historic mean, according to data from the INRH’s Department of Rational Use of Water.

The reports point to the island’s western region as the area where it has rained the less in 2014, registering 74 per cent of the water volumes that normally fall in August, while in the central and eastern regions there was an increase of the historic average of precipitations.

However, right now the principal signs of alarm are coming from the eastern region. Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second city with the most inhabitants, is implementing measures to face the contingencies derived from the shortage of water, already of a drought level. The five reservoirs that supply the most water to Santiago de Cuba’s population, Gilbert, Parada, Gota Blanca, Charco Mono and Chalons, at the start of October were storing around 32 per cent of their capacity.

In the usually rainiest months of May and July that province accumulated 387.7 millimetres of precipitations, equivalent to 40 per cent of the historic mean (962 millimetres), reported the provincial department of the INRH in Santiago.

As a measure to mitigate the water deficit, the city lengthened the cycles of supply of the liquid to four or five days, according to information given to the press by the Department of Aqueducts and Sewer Systems of the city. In mid-November the provincial government also announced the placement of water metres in almost all the homes in order to measure and control more efficiently water consumption and encourage its saving. That option is also making headway in the provinces of Holguín and Las Tunas, also in the east.

The commercial representative of the Aqueducts and Sewer Systems Business Group, Obdulio Casanova, reported that those metres have already been installed in 34,748 state enterprises in the country, a figure that represents around 55 per cent of the total of such entities.

Other provinces are speeding up the drilling of wells to ease the needs of the population, cattle raising and agricultural irrigation. Meanwhile, the authorities and the media are reiterating, especially in the affected provinces, calls to save water, at home as well as in the sectors that consume the most, which are agriculture and industry, in addition to the large hospitals and schools. (2014)

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