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Cuba prioritizes sustainable water management in the face of climate challenges

A high-density polyethylene pipe is laid in a street in the Cuban capital, where the water company Aguas de La Habana is modernizing the water supply networks of the municipality of Centro Habana. CREDIT: Jorge Luis Baños / IPS
  • by Luis Brizuela (Havana)
  • Inter Press Service

The “initiative to strengthen hydrological monitoring” in Cuba, signed in Havana on February 11, aims to strengthen the capacity to measure, transmit, process and analyze hydrological variables and systematically assess the availability of water. water at the national level.

According to the authorities of the water sector, the modernization and optimization of hydrological observation networks will be an essential component of early warning systems in the event of floods and droughts.

The initiative will be implemented by the National Institute of Water Resources (INRH), with the support of United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and funding from Russia.

It also plans to rethink the network for observing the quality of groundwater and surface water, explained the director of hydrology and hydrogeology of INRH, Argelio Fernandez.

The initiative is in line with Sustainable development goal (SDG) 6, which calls on governments to ensure the availability and sustainable management of water, as well as sanitation.

It also responds to the national policies and priorities contained in “Tarea Vida”, the government plan in place since 2017 to combat climate change.

Among its multiple strategic directions, the plan aims to ensure the availability and efficient use of water to cope with droughts, by relying on the application of technologies to save water and meet local demand.

It also advocates the optimization of hydraulic infrastructures and their maintenance, as well as the introduction of actions to measure the efficiency and productivity of water.

Waterways

The long and narrow shape of the island of Cuba, the largest of the Cuban archipelago, means that many rivers are short and the water flow is low and highly dependent on rainfall, more abundant during the rainy season. from May to October and during the passage of tropical waters. storms.

With an average annual rainfall of 1330 mm, records show that the rains are increasingly scarce, especially in the eastern region where the longest and largest rivers of the country are located, respectively the Cauto and the Toa. .

From 2014 to 2017, the country faced the greatest drought in 115 years, affecting 70% of the national territory.

Studies predict that Cuba’s climate will tend towards less rainfall, higher temperatures and more intense droughts, and that by 2100 water availability could be reduced by more than 35 percent.

Another consequence of climate change is that sea levels are expected to rise, a phenomenon that will exacerbate saltwater intrusion, to which 574 human settlements and 263 water supply sources are currently vulnerable, according to official figures.

Law No. 124 of the Land Water Law has guided the integrated and sustainable management of water since 2017, while the new constitution in force since April 2019 protects the right of Cubans to drinking water and water. sanitation, with appropriate remuneration and rational use.

Since 1959, the government has promoted an ambitious engineering program for artificial water reservoirs, to secure water supplies to a population that has nearly doubled to 11.2 million since, and to promote industrial development and agricultural irrigation plans.

Data shows that out of just over a dozen small reservoirs six decades ago, there are now more than 240 in the 15 provinces and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud – the second largest island in the archipelago – with a storage capacity of over nine billion cubic meters.

According to the Statistical Yearbook 2020, more than 95% of the Cuban population has access to drinking water, but only 86.5% of the urban population and 42.2% of the rural population receive piped water at home.

Despite the economic crisis that the country has suffered for three decades and the impact of the US embargo since 1962, millions of dollars have been invested in recent years to alleviate the water deficit and improve water quality.

Among the engineering works, the water transfer aqueducts stand out, with more than a dozen across the country considered to be strategic pillars in building resilience to the effects of climate change.

These interconnected systems of dams, canals, aqueducts, tunnels and bridges transfer water hundreds of kilometers from places where it is abundant to agricultural and industrial areas and human settlements.

They also make it possible to control floods, mitigate the impact of drought and allow the establishment of hydroelectric power stations.

Cuba has three factories that produce 1200mm diameter high density polyethylene pipes for laying new aqueducts and replacing aging and leaking water infrastructure which in some cities is over 100 years old.

It also aims to prioritize the manufacture of fittings and parts for domestic water supply networks, where nearly a quarter of running water is lost.

Of the total investment in the water system, which in recent years has averaged over 400 million pesos ($ 16.5 million) per year, more than half comes from the government budget for the construction and assembly.

The rest comes from international cooperation through projects and funds from countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan, Spain, France and the OPEC Fund for International Development.

Thanks to these investments, in the period 2018-2020, desalination plants were inaugurated in the provinces of Havana, Matanzas, Santiago de Cuba, Granma, Guantánamo and the municipality of Isla de la Juventud, in order to create points easily accessible to affected populations. by high levels of salinity in their water supply sources.

Meanwhile, in Camagüey, Cuba’s third most populous city located 538 km east of the capital, a water treatment plant with a treatment capacity of 1,800 liters of water per second is underway. of completion, which will make it the largest in the country.

Although the water that reaches most homes is treated and chlorinated, people are still concerned about the presence of microorganisms or salt that require boiling.

“It would be helpful if stores sold water filters more frequently and at affordable prices, as they help protect our health,” Havana resident Yolanda Soler told IPS.

However, building resilience also means fostering a water culture in businesses and private sectors and among citizens at large, hydroeconomics engineer Luis Bruzón, who lives in the province, told IPS. West of Mayabeque, during a telephone interview.

“Do we know how much water is used to produce a ton of a given agricultural or industrial product or to provide a specific service?” asked Bruzón, who believes that having such data would improve decision-making in a nation that must increasingly optimize and save water.

© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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