CIEGO DE AVILA, Cuba – Yolanda, 74, moved away from her lifelong home two weeks ago because for months it just wasn’t getting any water: “The neighbors managed to bring water up from the street with turbines but they cost 1,600 pesos ($65) and I live off my pension and that of my husband’s, 200 pesos ($8) each.
Now she lives downtown in the central Cuban city of Ciego de Avila and is doing much better – she gets water once every four or five days.
The water shortage everywhere is due to the intense and prolonged drought crippling the region, the worst in a century.
“At least the water gets to my house normally, even though it’s only once every five days. Today I got home and filled up all my containers because living without water isn’t easy,” Yolanda told EFE in her new house, where she has two 55-gallon (204-liter) tanks for domestic use, as well as many bottles of water she uses for cooking.
Yolanda is one of the 250,000 people suffering from the water shortage in Ciego de Avila province, where dams are at 11 percent of capacity and the ground water, which accounts for more than 70 percent of available water in the province, stands at 21 percent.
“We have to save all the water we can. If we can’t mop the house, we’ll just sweep it, but we have to be careful to make the water last for five days,” Ricardo Bernal, 70, told EFE.
With a small turbine he fills two large tanks with water for his family and his neighbors up the hill.
Housewife Marisol, 43, also counts on her neighbors for help in collecting water in buckets and other containers, because the water pipes in her house are all clogged up: “There’s a tremendous scarcity. If it weren’t for the neighbors, I couldn’t even wash my face.”
Cuba is undergoing one of the worst droughts in over a century, which this year has principally struck the central regions of Ciego de Avila, Sancti Spiritus and Camaguey, where the critical state of the aquifers not only affects the population, but also agriculture, which has had to be shifted to dryland farming.
“In the case of root vegetables, we grow yucca instead of taro. Among citrus fruit, it’s mangos and guava, which need less water than pineapples, the fruit that was once most widely grown here,” Orisbel Ruiz, deputy director of hydraulic resources in Ciego de Avila, one of Cuba’s leading agricultural provinces, told EFE.
In 2016, that province lost more than 600 head of cattle, while because of the food shortages, cows aren’t giving the milk they’re supposed to – not an insignificant problem in a country that spends $2 billion a year on importing foodstuffs.