Coping with water crisis in Cuba | IDRC – International Development Research Centre


Coping with water crisis in Cuba

Over the past ten years, Cuba’s economic decline has led to a slow but steady deterioration of water supplies and sanitation services — and a resulting increase in water-borne disease. When water shortages in parts of Cuba reached crisis proportions last year, two communities solved the problem by taking matters in their own hands — and using slow sand filters as home water-treatment systems.

In Santiago de Cuba, on the eastern part of the island, water shortages made headlines in August of last year. People in some areas of the city, including Veguita de Galo, were doing without water for up to 20 days at a stretch. In other areas, such as La Torre, service was frequently out for four and five days at a time. When water did flow through the city’s mains, it was often on for just two or three hours. To cope with erratic supply, people began storing water, for longer and longer periods, increasing the risk of contamination. Moreover, some residents of Veguita de Galo turned to a private well for water that was turbid, salty and unsafe for drinking.

Even before this most recent crisis the situation was intolerable. A survey revealed that 16 percent of households in Veguita de Galo did not have access to the water-distribution network. Even those that did had to treat their water before it was safe to drink. The region’s facility for producing the chlorine used to treat the municipal water supply had fallen victim to the combined economic shock of the American trade blockade and the fall of the Soviet bloc. A 1999 survey showed that water quality in 49 of the 50 water samples taken in Veguita de Galo was substandard. Cuba’s worsening economic situation also crippled the city`s three wastewater-treatment plants, triggering an increase in water-borne parasitic and infectious disease.