Thursday, May 26, 2011

Rainy Season Off to a Poor Start

Rainy Season Off to a Poor Start
By Patricia Grogg

CIEGO DE AVILA, Cuba, May 25, 2011 (IPS) - Despite major underground
water reserves and the start of the rainy season, people in the central
region of Cuba are anxiously scanning the skies in the face of scant
rainfall, which is needed to ease a drought that has become more severe
in recent years.

"The situation is tense. As of mid-May, no rain had been reported, and
in April, average rainfall did not exceed 50 millimetres," commented
Benito Rafael Migoya, a provincial agriculture official in Ciego de
Ávila, capital of the central province of the same name 460 km east of

Ciego de Ávila province has seven reservoirs, which are only 27 percent
full because of the rainfall shortage. "There is also a very strong
depression of the subsoil; the aquifer fills up quickly, but we need
rain for that," added Migoya, who talked to IPS during a tour prepared
for foreign correspondents.

Agriculture in the province is dependent on the underground aquifer,
estimated at some 970 million cubic metres of water. "Normally, you
would find water four metres deep, but now there are places where you
can't even find it 20 metres down, because of the drought," he said.

To minimise the impact, authorities took steps to control and regulate
water usage, to guarantee the residential supply and essential crop
irrigation. The most important farmland has mechanised irrigation systems.

"The principal measures, though, are conservation and more efficient use
of water," Migoya said. Meanwhile, farmers consulted by IPS warned that
the drought was even more critical for livestock, basically because of
its impact on pastureland, which needs abundant water to grow.

Seventy-two percent of soil in this province is of high quality for
agriculture. This, along with its water reserves and high crop yields,
makes it possible for it to supply Havana and the eastern province of
Santiago de Cuba, the country's two most populous provinces.

Havana and Pinar del Rio in western Cuba are the provinces most affected
by the water shortage.

A report from the National Meteorology Institute's Weather Centre said
that by the end of the November 2010-April 2011 dry season, 79 percent
of the country was suffering from rainfall shortages. Of that total, 41
percent suffered moderate shortages and 17 percent extreme shortages.

The Centre blamed the decreased rainfall on La Niña, the Southern
Oscillation, whose most intense influence was recorded in December. La
Niña, which periodically affects meteorological patterns worldwide and
whose inverse is El Niño, results from the cooling of surface water in
the Equatorial Pacific.

The influence of La Niña, however, "diminishes gradually starting in
April or May," the official report said.

But the light to moderate rainfall seen in May did not hold out much
hope for drought-stricken areas.

Weather Centre experts insisted that a relatively dry May was to be
expected, and that the recovery from the dry period would be moderate.
They recommended prudent water use, especially in the western region,
where the capital is located and where below-normal rainfall is forecast.

In Havana, a city of 2.2 million people, the problem is aggravated by
the state of the water distribution network, although an extensive
restoration programme is underway. In the neighbourhoods where the
situation is most critical, tap water is available only once every four
days, while in others, water is distributed by tanker trucks.

"The water crisis has reached Vedado (a centrally-located Havana
neighbourhood), don't waste it," says a handmade sign posted on the door
of an apartment building elevator.

"We never had water shortages here, but now there are days that it
doesn't flow into the cistern. We don't know if it is because of the
drought or because they cut it off for repairs," one building resident said.

Although drought is part of the natural variability of the Cuban
climate, research shows that its frequency and intensity have mounted in
the last 40 years. The country's prevention and adaptation strategies
focus on drought as much as on hurricanes.

The worst drought suffered by this Caribbean island nation in recent
years occurred in 2004 and 2005, directly affecting two million people
in more than 900 villages, towns and cities. According to official
estimates, the drought caused more than 1.2 million dollars' worth of
losses. Meanwhile, 2009 was recorded as the fourth driest year in the
last century.

The rainy season lasts from May to October, but given Cuba's geographic
characteristics, it is hurricanes that tend to bring truly intense
precipitation. These rains, however, are usually associated with
flooding and winds that leave a trail of destruction. The hurricane
season runs from June to November.

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