The heat literally has Cubans on pins and needles. Havana registered an absolute record of 38.2 degrees Celsius on Saturday September 12, 1.2 degrees higher than the previous maximum registered in April of this same year. The rest of the archipelago is also boiling. Experts estimate that 2015 is the hottest year in Cuba since 1951. The climate mercilessly denies rains. The country’s largest reservoir, the Zaza, is storing barely 16 per cent of its capacity of a billion cubic metres and the rest of the reservoirs aren’t doing better. At the start of September the dammed water throughout the country did not surpass 38 per cent of the possible volume. Experts are already describing the current drought as the worst suffered in Cuba in 115 years.
In the face of the potential disaster, the government agency that controls and manages the hydraulic treasure – the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH) – has speeded up the repair or replacement of aqueducts to eliminate major leaks; it had opportunely undertaken investments several years ago.
After the approval by Parliament of the National Water Policy in 2012, the Institute channelled a programme to restore the network of 22,500 kilometres of aqueducts. This year it has set itself the goal of investing some 300 million dollars in cities like Havana, Manzanillo, Bayamo, Camagüey and Cárdenas, among others.
Even so, the government has had to increase water distribution in cistern trucks for the population and for livestock. According to official reports, close to 10 per cent of the 11.2 million inhabitants of the Caribbean nation depend on that alternative.
In the face of a lack of storm clouds, the INRH announced a programme for the artificial increase of precipitations in the most affected provinces starting September 15. It aims to bomb the clouds with silver iodine cartridges from aircraft with special equipment to make it rain. Engineer Yosmary Gil, that agency’s director of hydraulic infrastructure, told the press that the Cauto basin, the country’s longest river, is the principal objective of the cloud seeding campaign. That zone is among the most punished by the drought. They are studying the possibility of extending the procedure to the neighbouring province of Camagüey.
Another INRH specialist, Argelio Fernández, said that the period from January to August has been the driest since 1901. The precipitations, with a bit over 613 millimetres accumulated nationally, remain below that registered during a similar stage in 2004, the year of the most recent intense drought Cubans remember.
Meanwhile, agriculture is adopting urgent measures to mitigate a nightmare affecting all the provinces.
The producers from Artemisa and Mayabeque, to the south of Havana, are incorporating or extending the drip irrigation method in the banana plantations, while relocating the tuber and vegetable crops to territories with better possibility of access to water reserves. The alternative of moving to less arid lands is also being adopted by livestock producers, especially in provinces in the east like Holguín and Granma.
Similar solutions are being sought by the farmers of Ciego de Avila, another food production centre. They are also testing the planting of varieties more resistant to the shortage of water and are resorting to short cycle crops, assisted by the Cuban Association of Agricultural and Forestry Technicians (ACTAF). The specialists of the institution are finding a favourable juncture to encourage knowledge about agroecology and poly-cultivation.
Ciego de Avila, in the centre of the island of Cuba, has one of the country’s largest underground aquifers, but currently it is storing 29 per cent of its total capacity, while the reservoirs contain 11 per cent of the possible water.
The traditional leaders in tobacco production, the farmers in Pinar del Río, are also hurrying up. In the face of the delay in the precipitations the farmers have advanced the stage of the seedbeds in the tobacco plantations.
Despite the therapies, the farmers have not been able to avoid serious damages to fundamental crops like rice. The rice harvest has strongly decreased in the provinces of Pinar del Río, Sancti Spíritus and Granma, the three principal producers.
No matter how many measures are taken, Cubans are anxiously watching on television the meteorological reports on every tropical storm or hurricane rearing its head in the Atlantic. They are hoping that the winds get lost along the way and only the rains get here, the rain that for more than a year has been lurking timidly on the horizon. Up to now, however, nature has disappointed them. (2015)
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