Reports from Cuba: Drinking water: Neighbors standing watch and squabbling

Jorge Enrique Rodriguez reports from Havana via Diario de Cuba:

Drinking Water: Neighbors Standing Watch, and Squabbling

Havana residents collect drinking water.

Almost the entire municipality of Central Havana is supplied with drinking water every other day, report residents in the community of Los Sitios. The service schedule is irregular and, once it begins, it never lasts more than three hours, “with some luck, four, and not always with enough pressure.”

It is not enough to have two or three tanks to collect water. If you do not have a good engine, “you’re out of luck,” said Mario Esquivel, the father of two children, ages one and two.

“The days that water is to arrive, you have to stand guard. It might arrive at 4:00 in the afternoon, or at 11:00 at night. That day you cannot make any kind of plans, even it is Saturday or Sunday”. His family lives with another 12 in a tenement that does not have a common cistern.

Each family on the site has two or three tanks for the collection of drinking water, and the respective motor. In addition to endangering the roofs of each home, due to their weight, the dozen motors hinder the flow of water through the main pipeline. Exchanges between neighbors often get heated.

“They accuse each other, without making any sense, because nobody is to blame if someone else has a better motor. Responsibility lies with the State, which in 60 years has not been able to resolve the issue of the water supply in Central Havana,” said Esquivel.

Arletis and Amed, a young couple living on the Calle Manrique and parents of a little one-year-old girl, confess that they spend “more time paying attention to when the water comes than to the girl.” The building where they live with another four families does not have a cistern either.

“Even throwing a party requires planning. The day before you cannot wash or clean the house, and you have to make sure that the holiday is a water day, because otherwise you’re in big trouble,” said Arletis. He explained that he could not celebrate Mother’s Day because the previous day no drinking water arrived, due to interruptions in the service. The company, Aguas de La Habana, did not notify them in advance through the media.

State companies serving the population, such as Aguas de La Habana, often “announce breakages or interruptions days later,” prompting waves of complaints from those affected, “and after people have already been screwed over,” Amed said.

Breaks, interruptions and corruption

In the building located on Consulado #259, between Ánimas and Virtudes, the residents live engaged in a “pitched battle.” For about three months the area has suffered interruptions in its water supply service, and the building’s cistern barely fills up to half its capacity.

Luis Herrera Paz, in charge of the operation of the motor, is the target of accusations. When asked, most of the residents report that in recent months the service has been unreliable. Water does not arrive every day.

“Besides me, they accuse each other of having ‘water thieves’ and, although they know that there is a general problem in the municipality with the supply, they are not capable of complaining to the municipal government.”

In Old Havana the supply of drinking water is supposed to improve thanks to the completion of an 8.7-kilometer pipe, an infrastructure beginning in Palatino and that will reach the intersection of Prado and Malecón. According to the state press, this structure will benefit almost 91,000 residents of the municipality and improve the supply at hotels in the area.

However, a survey of the neighbors revealed that in many areas the drinking water supply has worsened, significantly.

“Many know that the best service is being diverted to hotels, but nobody says anything. It’s easier for us Cubans to fight among ourselves, and to put more obstacles between us, making things worse,” said Herrera Paz, referring to the fact that the residents of her building have decided to buy individual motors, which will actually make it much harder to get drinking water to each home.

With respect to the areas of Central Habana and Old Havana that still depend on the supply of drinking water from tanker trucks, known as pipas, the situation is also unstable.

Although the company Aguas de La Habana admitted that there are deficiencies in the pipas service, due to a lack of fuel and, sometimes, negligence by managers in the area, more than a few residents of these neighborhoods alleged that there is also corruption.

“If you pay for the pipa, it shows up right away, at any time, and anywhere, but the prices went up from 30 to 50CUC … you have to bribe many people along the way …” two pipa drivers who supply restaurants and private hostels in Old Havana on the sly confessed

On April 30 the residents of the multifamily building located on the Calle Sol # 470 performed a sit-in that got the municipal government to reestablish the potable water supply service, if only by means of pipas, after it had been interrupted without warning for more than 15 days.

Days later, residents of the Las Cañas neighborhood, in the Cerro municipality, also protested publicly for the same reason.

On a tour of the areas near the hotels of Old Havana and Central Habana, residents stated they had no problems with their drinking water supply.