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


In one hand Manuel Reyes Estrada carried a form and a pencil, in the other a bucket filled with small fish and a plastic Bucanero beer cup. “It is like this,” he said. “We, the health brigade employees, are only allowed to write with pencils.” His superiors, he explained, use pens. In the afternoon, the superiors visit the houses where the health brigade employees have worked earlier in the day — “to check if we have done our work well.”

Manuel stopped for a second on the unpaved road in the Cuban city of Holguín to fill in the house numbers on his otherwise empty form. He swept the sweat away from his face.

Every day in towns across Cuba, a vast array of workers — from inspectors and fumigators to truck drivers and pipe layers — takes to the streets in a coordinated effort to provide clean water to their fellow citizens.

Among other responsibilities, the health workers conduct exhaustive inspections of rooftop water tanks, ensuring that the water is clean and free of mosquito larvae, thereby helping to prevent the transmission of tropical diseases such as dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

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

In recent years, infrastructure problems have been compounded by droughts and rising temperatures. For much of the population, running water is available only sporadically — in some cases, for one or two hours a day, every few days. While it flows, residents store the available water in cisterns or tanks, which then serve as potential breeding environments for mosquitoes.

With a background in anthropology, I have long been interested in how people live and manage their everyday challenges.

During previous visits to Cuba, I noticed the daily struggles for fresh water: people hassling with water pumps, the streets soaked because of faulty pipelines, water trucks continuously plying the roads. Born and raised in the rainy Netherlands, where clean drinking water is taken for granted, I hadn’t expected water to be a scarcity on a tropical island.

By shadowing different workers who were involved in guaranteeing water access on various parts of the island, I began to see a cross-section of contemporary Cuba.

In the town of Trinidad, for example, I met Alexis Alonso Mendoza, who described himself as “the most popular man in town.”

Trinidad is divided into several districts, each of which usually has running water for two hours every five days. As the “water-key man,” Alexis is responsible for turning the underground sluices that change the direction of the water within the town.

I climbed aboard several water trucks, called pipas, which supply water in the event of a broken pipeline or insufficient pressure — or when functioning plumbing simply doesn’t exist.

Many of the drivers were kind enough to let me observe how they fill their trucks and distribute the water. I witnessed firsthand the bureaucracy involved — and the seemingly endless amounts of time the drivers spent waiting to fill their tanks.

I also hopped on the horse-drawn carriages that carry the water throughout the city, and observed how Cubans — with an ingeniousness and thoroughness — tried to fix their water hoses and pumps with whatever materials were available to them.

While walking back to the policlínica at the end of one of his shifts, Manuel, who has worked for the health brigade for 13 years, reflected on his work. He was pleased, he said, to be “contributing to the health of my compatriots.” But he also enjoys the interactions — visiting people, having a chat. “Often they invite me for coffee,” he said.

A man on a bicycle greeted him as he rode past. “Manuel, can you bring me some fish tomorrow? I will get you some cigars in return.”

Later, Manuel passed his supervisor. “You know the green house at the corner, where the older lady lives alone?” he said. “I found mosquito larvae in the lower tank on the patio.”

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


Sahred From Source link World News