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By Ivet González
"The drought is as serious as cyclones. Right now all the vegetation is yellow and anything can cause a fire," said Odalys Ramírez, a woman from a peasant family who lives in the town of Quivicán, in the neighboring Mayabeque province. with the capital and one of the most affected by the crisis.
"At least we do not suffer from problems with water in our homes," explained the 41-year-old woman, who spoke with Tierramérica at the beginning of May, when the dry season officially ends, which begins in October in this Caribbean island country. .
But the authorities had to take emergency measures to protect hundreds of thousands of people with the transport of water in tanker trucks, analyzes to modify supply sources in places with resource deficits, build new water connections and deepen and open wells.
For Ramírez, "the impact has been seen in agriculture because many producers do not have a turbine (irrigation systems) and the animals receive less food due to the lack of grass."
"The peasants are those who suffer the most from the situation because their work may be lost or not yield what is necessary," he valued.
The dry season that ends this month left a clear message about the intensification in Cuba of prolonged droughts and where its 11.2 million inhabitants, who depend mainly on the rains to have water in the residential and productive sectors.
The Climate Center of the state Meteorology Institute reported that the critical situation at the end of 2014 worsened at the end of the first quarter of 2015, due to an "intense and prolonged" period of drought that affects 63 percent of the territory, especially its westernmost half.
Of the affected areas, eight percent corresponded to severe to extreme rainfall deficits, 18 percent moderate and 37 percent weak.
Until March the most affected provinces were the western ones of Pinar del Río, Mayabeque and Matanzas; the centrals of Cienfuegos and Villa Clara, and the eastern ones of Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantánamo.
At the end of April, for example, local media reports reported that the underground water reserves in the province of Ciego de Ávila presented the most critical situation in the last four decades, with a lack of 61 percent of their exploitable capacity.
In some areas of the Avilanian aquifer, liquid was even pumped from the so-called deadlock, which must be untouchable because saline intrusion into the water source and its consequent loss is at risk. For this reason, the hydraulic branch reduced and prohibited irrigation in the fields in several areas.
The local media describe the consequences of the drought as "serious", but the authorities have not yet disclosed the economic losses suffered by the shortage of water and the extra efforts to supply the populations in critical situation in tank cars, for livestock and agriculture. farming.
The main cause of the slow recovery of the aquifers and the little filling of the reservoirs, 969 in the whole country, was the very meager rainfall, according to the Climate Center.
The problem is related to climate change and the consequent rise in temperatures and extreme natural events.
Last year was the hottest of the last 135 and April 26, 2015 was among the days with the highest temperature in half a century, with values above 35 degrees Celsius in 23 Cuban weather stations.
The state National Office of Statistics and Information indicated that in 2014 the average total rainfall in the country was 1,268 millimeters (1.26 liters per square meter), a drop of 17.2 millimeters compared to 2013.
Cuba ranks among the countries with low availability of water per person, with 1,220 cubic meters per inhabitant for all uses, which specialized sources define as “moderate water stress”.
"Every year we see that the average historical rains decrease," said Alberto López, vice president of the government of Cauto Cristo, a rural municipality in the province of Granma. “Last year was atypical. It rained for a longer period of time but with minimal volumes, ”he explained in a dialogue with Tierramérica.
"Luckily, no hurricane has passed here for quite some time," López was delighted, while identifying the drought as the main climate problem in the agricultural municipality of 21,000 inhabitants.
"We depend on rainwater ... and more because very few farms have a water pumping system," he explained.
The Cauto River was seen far below its usual level, the second largest in the Caribbean nation and which passes through this 550-square-kilometer eastern municipality, Tierramérica found. The official revealed that the Cauto El Paso dam, the third largest in the country, had the reservoir at 30 percent of its capacity.
For his part, Manuel Sánchez, from the non-governmental National Association of Small Farmers in Granma, explained to Tierramérica that low rainfall prevents reservoirs such as the Carlos Manuel de Céspedes, in Santiago de Cuba, from providing quality water to the Cauto River to lower its high levels of salinity.
"The water that reaches the population tastes salty, which means that it is practically useless for human consumption and affects agriculture," he added. "When there is a drought the volume of water is reduced and also the quality of the available liquid, causing health problems and the soils," he specified.
"In recent years, drought episodes have increased in Cuba, bringing very damaging consequences," warned researcher Cecilia M. Fonseca, from the Climate Center, in the article "Drought conditions and management strategies in Cuba."
The expert recalled the succession of several extreme events, which "caused enormous inconvenience to the population, large economic losses and significant damage to the environment."
Between 2004 and 2005, the most critical dry event in the last century of meteorological records in the country was reported, with losses equivalent to 40 million dollars. And between 2009 and 2010 the western half of the island suffered the most severe drought in its history.
Specialists and the population reviewed other issues such as waste and poor management of the branch, because in several territories up to 50 percent of the pumped water leaks through leaks in aging networks without proper maintenance.
"More rationalization measures need to be implemented and the groundwater basins preserved by following current sanitary regulations, exploitation limits and not polluting rivers, lakes and wells," Russian specialist Viera Petrova, a Matanzas resident since 1970, told Tierramérica.
It also warned about the vulnerability of coastal communities, where extreme care must be taken to protect water sources from saline intrusion.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the drought in 2013 became the main disaster in number of people affected in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 1.7 million people suffered from water shortages in 2014, mainly in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.