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Cuba on Edge as Drought Worsens

  • Reuters

FILE - Workers stand next to a water tank used to supply water to residents in Havana, April 13, 2011.

FILE - Workers stand next to a water tank used to supply water to residents in Havana, April 13, 2011.

Cuba put its civil defense system on alert on Monday due to a yearlong drought that is forecast to worsen in the coming months and has already damaged agriculture and left more than a million people relying on trucked-in water.

From Cuba's famous cigars to sugar, vegetables, rice, coffee and beans, the drought is damaging crops. It has slowed planting and left one in 10 residents waiting for government tank trucks to survive in record summer heat.

The country's civil defense system said the drought, record heat and water leakage have led to "low levels of available water for the population, agriculture, industry and services."

The government has not provided a national breakdown of drought damage, but it said Monday that emergency measures were being taken at all levels, including stricter rationing of water through the state-run waterworks.

Communist-run Cuba loses around 50 percent of the water pumped from its reservoirs due to leaks. There is little irrigation of farm land and the systems that exist are outdated and inefficient.

Reservoirs depleted

Drought conditions across the Caribbean, caused by the phenomenon known as El Nino, have left reservoirs at 37 percent of capacity.

Cuban authorities appear increasingly alarmed by the situation, which could lead to wider rationing in major cities and hard choices on where water should be allocated with winter planting, the tourism season and sugar milling all beginning in November.

"The drought is everyone's problem and so every state entity has to ... create a plan immediately," Chapman Waught, who heads Cuba's waterworks, said last week as she toured the country.

This year's rainy season, which includes the hurricane season, is forecast to bring rains well below the norm due to the El Nino weather phenomenon.

It has been seven years since a hurricane, which on average hits Cuba every other year, has swept along the island, dumping much-needed torrential rains along with inevitable damage.

Hurricane Sandy cut a narrow path across parts of eastern Cuba in 2012.

"It is hard to believe, but many of us are hoping for a hurricane," said Nuris Lopez, a hairdresser in eastern Granma province where residents receive a bit of water once a week and otherwise rely on tanker trucks.

"I might lose my roof, but at least I could clean my house," she said.