Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Climate Change Aggravates Water Shortage in Cuba

                                         Many areas in Cuba still rely on tanker trucks for water.

In this eastern Cuban city, Danny Dip Leyva has begun to use her shower again after decades of hauling water into her house by hand. But in Aurora, a small neighborhood on the outskirts of Havana, Manuel Roque still longs for a regular supply of piped water.

Nearly 900 km apart, Havana and Santiago de Cuba are this country’s largest and second-largest cities. Both depend mainly on rain for water, which makes supplies vulnerable to the effects of climate change. And both reflect the magnitude of the country’s water shortage and the government’s efforts to solve the problem.

Experts note that the worst natural disasters in Cuba are associated with hydrometeorological events, including drought and hurricanes, which are aggravated by climate change.

The worst drought in recent years, in 2004 and 2005, began in eastern Cuba but eventually affected the entire country, causing some three billion dollars in losses. In Cuba, the dry season runs from November to April, and 80 percent of annual precipitation occurs from May to October. As of February 2012, the country’s 240 reservoirs held nearly 5.6 million cubic metres of water, or 56.5 percent of capacity.

While the situation is not as critical as it was in 2005, experts point out with concern that 82 reservoirs were at less than 50 percent of capacity, and that 39 of these were below 25 percent of capacity and 10 percent were completely dry. Havana, with reserves at just 19 percent of capacity, was one of the cities with the most dire water shortages.

The long and narrow Cuban archipelago has no major natural freshwater sources, making rainfall its principal source of water. The country’s reservoirs are part of a strategy followed by the government since the 1960s, to provide supplies during the dry season.

According to reports from the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH), Cuba increased its capacity from 48 million cubic metres in 13 reservoirs in 1959 to almost nine billion cubic metres today. In addition to these surface water reserves, the country has three billion cubic metres of underground water reserves.

In recent years, the Cuban government has revived plans that were interrupted by the severe economic crisis of the 1990s, hoping to find a long-term solution to water shortages with engineering works in the eastern and central regions to transfer water from rainy mountain regions to drier areas.

The strategy includes the construction of reservoirs, canals and pipelines, as well as more than 80 km of mountain tunnels. Once completed, the distribution network will benefit at least nine of the country’s 15 provinces. The programme is considered vital for the eastern region, due to its scarce groundwater reserves. 

Written by Patricia Grogg. Read 

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