More intense drought worries Cuba

Climate change in the Caribbean is causing shorter cycles in the return of droughts, lasting for longer periods of time.

Climate change has caused in the Caribbean a more frequent return of droughts.

Foto: Archivo_IPS-Cuba

With a significant reduction in precipitations, it is confirmed that drought is one of the conflicts that today most strains the country’s economy and the life of many persons. The expansion of the territories affected by this climatic disaster, less published but equally damaging like a cyclone, has made it necessary to draw up a programme of urgent measures in the country.

More than 80 per cent of the municipalities are already experiencing damages due to the deficit in rainfall, at a time when studies are anticipating an increasingly more severe performance in the short and mid-term. The punishment has been most intense than usual during the dry season. Reports from the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH) indicate than in January the accumulated rainfall in Cuba was 30.7 mm, 65 per cent of the all-time mean.


As a consequence, at the close of this month 139 of the country’s 168 municipalities were in categories of hydrological drought: 53 extreme and 52 severe. In 34 of them the lack of water was moderate.


The average of precipitations in the country during 2015 and 2016 has been the lowest in the last 30 years, José Antonio Hernández Alvarez, director of the institute’s Rational Use of Water, reported. The expert said that all the forecast models of the National Institute of Meteorology and of the INRH show that “the tendency from now on will be that there will be less rainfall.”


“Climate change is causing that, mainly in the region of the Caribbean, there be increasingly less rain,” Hernández added.

The closing of water supply sources has made it necessary to use emergency resources like cistern trucks.

Foto: Jorge Luis Baños_IPS


The president of the INRH, Inés María Chapman, alerted to the press that because of that droughts are tending to return to Cuba sooner and they remain for longer periods. The return cycles have decreased from five to three years, while they last longer, Chapman explained.


The damages caused by the reduction in the pumping of water are being felt in agriculture, where harvests like that of rice have contracted in 2016. It is also punishing almost all the other sectors of the economy and makes it necessary to implement costly measures to compensate for the deficit. Numerous families already perceive it in their homes, since they have stopped receiving water through usual sources.


Hernández recently reported that out of the 244 pumping stations, 192 were affected (the pumping schedule is reduced and the water distribution cycles are longer) and 52 totally closed down, which is why the population receives water through cistern trucks.


The damages are partially marking the life of 783,000 persons and totally 53,000.


The decrease in precipitations has caused a strong contraction of the water reserves: Cuba had 45 per cent of its total reservoir capacity in mid-February, after closing January with 47 per cent, the INRH reported.


Although it rained in 2016, the major part of the water fell in very short periods and in rainy and coastal zones, where it does not influence the recovery of the reservoirs, commented the INRH’s director of Rational Use of Water. If to this, Hernández insisted, the accumulated deficit in precipitations in the last two and a half years is added, the decrease in the levels of superficial and underground supply sources is logical.


The tensest situation is registered by the provinces of Ciego de Avila, in the centre of the country, and in the eastern region, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo, with territories in which the drought already has lasted more than 30 months. In other provinces, the shortage of rainfall is generating concern: Cienfuegos and Camagüey, and in the west: Pinar del Río and Isla de la Juventud.


The INRH is heading a programme of investments worth millions of pesos to build and repair aqueducts and the rest of the hydraulic infrastructure, whose bad state has been identified as one of the principal causes of the waste of water. Through the suppression of leaks, the losses have decreased from 58 per cent to 45 per cent in recent years, but they continue having high levels. Almost half the water that is pumped is lost.


The country is prioritizing investments in the rehabilitation of networks and pipelines that take the water from the principal sources of supply (reservoirs, wells and others) to the city and in the system of underground pipes which in the urban zones take water to homes.


A programme for the production and purchase of fixtures is also advancing in order to supply social institutions and homes for the suppression of leaks. Metres are being installed to measure and charge for the real consumption of water instead of the estimated invoicing, which has favoured very little the saving and rational consumption awareness.


Among the alternatives to compensate for the deficit of rainfall, the country is even studying the most costly variants, like seawater. Desalination plants are already being assembled in Santiago de Cuba, with capacity for 50 litres per second, and in cays to the north of Ciego de Avila, where an important tourist destination is located. The feasibility of others is being studied. “Even though it’s the most expensive water, desalination cannot be spurned as an alternative,” Hernández commented. (2017)

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