An Inside Look at Cuba’s Constant Struggle for Clean Water

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In a single hand Manuel Reyes Estrada carried a kind and a pencil, within the different a bucket full of small fish and a plastic Bucanero beer cup. “It’s like this,” he mentioned. “We, the well being brigade staff, are solely allowed to jot down with pencils.” His superiors, he defined, use pens. Within the afternoon, the superiors go to the homes the place the well being brigade staff have labored earlier within the day — “to test if we’ve achieved our work properly.”

Manuel stopped for a second on the unpaved street within the Cuban metropolis of Holguín to fill in the home numbers on his in any other case empty kind. He swept the sweat away from his face.

Each day in cities throughout Cuba, an enormous array of employees — from inspectors and fumigators to truck drivers and pipe layers — takes to the streets in a coordinated effort to supply clear water to their fellow residents.

Amongst different obligations, the well being employees conduct exhaustive inspections of rooftop water tanks, making certain that the water is clear and freed from mosquito larvae, thereby serving to to stop the transmission of tropical illnesses similar to dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

The efforts are a part of an analog, labor-intensive resolution in a largely nondigital society.

A good portion of Cuba’s obtainable consuming water is misplaced by way of its leaky and antiquated pipelines — greater than 50 %, by some estimates.

In recent times, infrastructure issues have been compounded by droughts and rising temperatures. For a lot of the inhabitants, operating water is on the market solely sporadically — in some instances, for one or two hours a day, each few days. Whereas it flows, residents retailer the obtainable water in cisterns or tanks, which then function potential breeding environments for mosquitoes.

Manuel ignored the barking canine as he entered the home. A girl carrying curlers in her hair confirmed him the spiral staircase that results in the roof. After finding the constructing’s water tank, he used a small mirror to light up its shadowy inside.

Utilizing the plastic beer cup, Manuel scooped 5 little fish from his bucket into the water tank. “Usually we use Abate,” he mentioned, referring to a larvicide, also referred to as temefos, used to deal with water. However the chemical wasn’t obtainable, he defined, and so the fish, which eat the larvae, are employed as a pure — if sophisticated — various.

With a background in anthropology, I’ve lengthy been interested by how folks reside and handle their on a regular basis challenges.

Throughout earlier visits to Cuba, I observed the each day struggles for contemporary water: folks hassling with water pumps, the streets soaked due to defective pipelines, water vans constantly plying the roads. Born and raised within the wet Netherlands, the place clear consuming water is taken with no consideration, I hadn’t anticipated water to be a shortage on a tropical island.

In February 2019, Cubans voted to approve a brand new structure, which, amongst many different provisions, established the fitting to scrub water. I made a decision to make this constitutional proper a place to begin for a challenge on Cuba’s underreported water disaster.

I traveled to Cuba for six weeks in April and Could 2019, and for 4 extra weeks in January 2020. On the primary journey I realized how completely different areas expertise completely different issues — and discover options. I additionally found what number of professions have been concerned in offering water to residents.

By shadowing completely different employees who have been concerned in guaranteeing water entry on numerous components of the island, I started to see a cross-section of up to date Cuba.

Within the city of Trinidad, for instance, I met Alexis Alonso Mendoza, who described himself as “the most well-liked man on the town.”

Trinidad is split into a number of districts, every of which normally has operating water for 2 hours each 5 days. Because the “water-key man,” Alexis is answerable for turning the underground sluices that change the course of the water throughout the city.

Utilizing an off-line map, I positioned the small clinics, referred to as policlínicas, the place, at eight a.m., the inspectors and fumigators of the well being brigade collect earlier than dispersing into the streets.

I climbed aboard a number of water vans, referred to as pipas, which provide water within the occasion of a damaged pipeline or inadequate stress — or when functioning plumbing merely doesn’t exist.

Most of the drivers have been type sufficient to let me observe how they fill their vans and distribute the water. I witnessed firsthand the paperwork concerned — and the seemingly countless quantities of time the drivers spent ready to fill their tanks.

I additionally hopped on the horse-drawn carriages that carry the water all through town, and noticed how Cubans — with an ingeniousness and thoroughness — tried to repair their water hoses and pumps with no matter supplies have been obtainable to them.

It’s troublesome to know the complete results of the pandemic on Cuba’s water disaster. For a lot of 2020, the nation largely managed the virus, however a dearth of vacationers led to one of many worst meals shortages in almost 25 years. Infections elevated dramatically after lockdowns have been lifted and the nation’s borders have been opened in November. Since then, extra stresses to the general public well being system might have exacerbated inspection, fumigation and supply.

Whereas strolling again to the policlínica on the finish of considered one of his shifts, Manuel, who has labored for the well being brigade for 13 years, mirrored on his work. He was happy, he mentioned, to be “contributing to the well being of my compatriots.” However he additionally enjoys the interactions — visiting folks, having a chat. “Usually they invite me for espresso,” he mentioned.

A person on a bicycle greeted him as he rode previous. “Manuel, are you able to carry me some fish tomorrow? I’ll get you some cigars in return.”

Later, Manuel handed his supervisor. “You understand the inexperienced home on the nook, the place the older girl lives alone?” he mentioned. “I discovered mosquito larvae within the decrease tank on the patio.”

“OK,” his supervisor responded. “I’ll ship the fumigators to smoke them out. See you tomorrow, mi vida.”

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