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Much of Cuba Waiting for the Rain

Much of Cuba Waiting for the Rain
March 4, 2015
Sayli Sosa (Progreso Weekly)

HAVANA TIMES — The political and administrative authorities of the
province of Ciego de Avila, about 400 kilometers east of Havana, have
known since late October that the accumulation of rain would not permit
the province to reach the next rainy season (in May or June) in
favorable conditions.

Nevertheless, the critical state of the aquifers in early 2015 moved the
contingency plans ahead.

Of the 15 hydrogeological sectors into which the National Institute of
Water Resources (INRH) divides the subterranean basins in this province,
five are on alert and two on alarm status, with several months of the
dry season remaining.

According to Rafael González-Abreu, an INRH specialist, in 2014 Ciego de
Ávila did not exceed its historical average of precipitation, barely 779
millimeters (30 inches) for the whole year. This is the main cause of
the slow recovery of the aquifers and the reduced content of the reservoirs.

By late December, the six reservoirs in the province were at 50 percent
of capacity, estimated at 150 million cubic meters of water.

However, other variables make the equation more complex. The need for
water for agriculture has grown substantially in the past five years,
with increased production of fruits and grains, including the recovery
of citrus farms (devastated by the Yellow Dragon plague) on about 4,000
more hectares.

It is estimated that in 2014 the fruit-production project amounted to
3,000 hectares of mango, 1,600 of guava, and about 600 of pineapple,
which — along with the grains (rice and beans) and the Cuban-Brazilian
soybean program (CubaSoy) — demand large volumes of water for irrigation.

The demands of agriculture will increase further because the
fruit-production program is expected to grow to 14,000 hectares by 2018.

Also, the investment process on the keys north of Ciego de Ávila (the
Jardines del Rey tourist destination) raised consumption last year, when
it put into operation about 600 additional rooms suites and renovated
100 others. Add to this the greater than planned production of sugar
cane, which required more water.

Massive Pipe Leaks in Urban Areas

The dark horse in this situation is waste. Although figures are not
available, the specialists at the INRH and the Waterways and Sewage
Department say that usage of water in the government-businesses and
residential sectors is not efficient.

Today, more than 50 percent of the water extracted in Ciego de Ávila is
lost en route because of the bad condition of the conduits. In fact,
about 230 kilometers of pipe need to be replaced. Ironically, this
happens in the area where one of the factories of high-density
polyethylene pipes is situated.

In 2014, the output of the Ciegoplast pipe company was directed at the
rehabilitation of the water distribution networks in Havana, Camagüey,
Holguín and Las Tunas.

Distress Call is Nationwide

News about the seriousness of the drought comes from every direction of
the island and reveals not only a climate change but also serious harm
to the national economy.

In Pinar del Río, the absence of rain for long periods has forced
tobacco growers to stop planting it, precisely at a time when the easing
of trade announced by the Obama administration opens new opportunities
for trading in this commodity. About 15,000 hectares of tobacco are
currently planted in that far western province.

According to the Cuban Meteorology Institute (INSMET), the last quarter
of 2015 was quite dry, with a 42-percent deficit in the water
accumulation nationwide. The worst affected provinces were Pinar del Río
and Artemisa in the west, and Las Tunas, Granma, Holguín, Santiago de
Cuba and Guantánamo in the east.

In Granma, the current state of water reserves motivated a visit by the
Chief of Staff of Cuba’s Civil Defense.

In that area, the rice-planting program, the nation’s largest, was
affected by the scant precipitation, although no data were released.

Another high-ranking official, Ramiro Valdés, went to Santiago de Cuba
last December to view the damage caused by the drought and the shortages
in potable-water distribution to the population of that provincial capital.

At present, that province has less than 40 percent of the water that its
11 reservoirs can hold. That situation delays distribution to the
residential areas and imposes restrictions on farming, industry and the
service sector.

In late January, the central province of Sancti Spiritus had 25 water
sources at low levels, some of them on the edge of drying up. At the
time of this report, Forty-three thousand people were receiving their
water via trucks, according to the official Granma newspaper.

Likewise, it is now known that 2014 was the warmest year in 135 years.
Scientists are amazed because there was no weather oscillation caused by
El Niño. Thus, 10 of the years with the highest average temperatures
have passed between 1997 and 2015. This confirms the implications of
climate change, the result of human action on the planet.

Contingency Plans

According to the INSMET, Cuba’s central region will receive the least
accumulation of rain during the season that ends in April.

Ninety percent of the water consumed in this central province is
extracted from underground. The subterranean sources had been estimated
at 963 million cubic meters, but recent studies in the two southern
sectors indicated that the accumulation declined to 295 million cubic
meters, so all the basins — when full — hold only 872 million cubic
meters of water.

That scenario forces the government to take steps that, while not yet
extreme, will have an impact on the social and economic sectors.

The keys to the contingency include a strict control over swimming pools
(private and state-run) and high-consumption organizations, in addition
to self-employed entrepreneurs that operate car washes and economic
activities that use a significant amount of water.

Another sector where water use is already being reduced is agriculture,
where illegal plantations are often created next to a supply network.

The Ceballos Citrus Farm, a company that owns 80 percent of fruit
plantations, is in the area where the wells have shown the largest
decrease in their reserves.

Other farm businesses in the area could also feel the pinch of the
current situation, among them La Cuba, responsible for the largest
volumes of banana production in the country and in charge of an
ambitious plan for grain growing.

It has been learned that the frequency and extension of irrigation will
be reduced in line with the severity of the drought. Already, pumping
has been suspended in 11 distribution points serving farmers’
cooperatives and land operated by the Ceballos Citrus Farm. Data on the
likely economic impact are not available.

After Hurricane Flora (1963) demonstrated the inefficient (or
inexistent) structures to store water, the Cuban government began a
movement to build reservoirs, transfer channels and aqueducts.

This program increased storage capacity from 48 million cu. m. in 1959
to more than 9 billion cu. m. in the late 1980s.

However, the drive to improve water services diminished in the 1990s,
which caused several of the projects to remain half completed or unfinished.

It wasn’t until 2004, under the threat of an extreme drought that a
decision was made to resume the construction of transfer channels,
especially in the eastern region. One decade later, the conditions to
ensure “water for the entire century” have not yet been created.

The challenge in Ciego de Ávila and the rest of the country is to reach
May 2015 with water reserves that guarantee sustainability.

If investments are not made quickly to prevent the growing leakages and
waste, there’s not much to do but to hope for rain and hope that the
mangoes ripen.

From now on, all eyes are on the sky.

Source: Much of Cuba Waiting for the Rain – Havana –

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