An Inside Have a look at Cuba’s Fixed Battle for Clear Water

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In a single hand Manuel Reyes Estrada carried a type and a pencil, within the different a bucket crammed with small fish and a plastic Bucanero beer cup. “It’s like this,” he stated. “We, the well being brigade staff, are solely allowed to put in writing 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 have now finished our work effectively.”

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 type. He swept the sweat away from his face.

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

Amongst different tasks, 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 forestall the transmission of tropical illnesses corresponding to dengue, chikungunya and Zika.

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

A good portion of Cuba’s out there ingesting water is misplaced via its leaky and antiquated pipelines — greater than 50 p.c, by some estimates.

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

Manuel ignored the barking canine as he entered the home. A lady sporting 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 stated, referring to a larvicide, often known as temefos, used to deal with water. However the chemical wasn’t out there, he defined, and so the fish, which eat the larvae, are employed as a pure — if difficult — different.

With a background in anthropology, I’ve lengthy been fascinated about how individuals stay and handle their on a regular basis challenges.

Throughout earlier visits to Cuba, I seen the day by day struggles for recent water: individuals hassling with water pumps, the streets soaked due to defective pipelines, water vehicles constantly plying the roads. Born and raised within the wet Netherlands, the place clear ingesting water is taken as a right, 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 precise to wash 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 Might 2019, and for 4 extra weeks in January 2020. On the primary journey I discovered how completely different areas expertise completely different issues — and discover options. I additionally found what number of professions had been concerned in offering water to residents.

By shadowing completely different employees who had been concerned in guaranteeing water entry on varied 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 preferred man on the town.”

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

Utilizing an off-line map, I positioned the small clinics, known as policlínicas, the place, at 8 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 vehicles, known as pipas, which provide water within the occasion of a damaged pipeline or inadequate stress — or when functioning plumbing merely doesn’t exist.

Lots of the drivers had been sort sufficient to let me observe how they fill their vehicles and distribute the water. I witnessed firsthand the paperwork concerned — and the seemingly limitless 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 the town, and noticed how Cubans — with an ingeniousness and thoroughness — tried to repair their water hoses and pumps with no matter supplies had been out there to them.

It’s troublesome to know the total 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 had been lifted and the nation’s borders had been opened in November. Since then, extra stresses to the general public well being system could have exacerbated inspection, fumigation and supply.

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

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

Later, Manuel handed his supervisor. “You realize the inexperienced home on the nook, the place the older woman lives alone?” he stated. “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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