Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Water Shortages Have a Heavy Impact on Women in Cuba

Water Shortages Have a Heavy Impact on Women in Cuba
By Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Dec 2 2015 (IPS) - Denia Arrascaeta suffers water shortages on a
near daily basis in the neighbourhood in the Cuban capital where she
lives. "Sometimes I don't even have water to drink," she told IPS.

At her grandmother's house, the water supply is more regular, so when
the shortage becomes acute, she fills several big bottles and carries
them the eight blocks to her home.

The 39-year-old accountant lives in a neighbourhood on the west side of
Havana, where the water supply is more erratic.

"Occasionally, my grandmother's tap also goes dry, and we have to wait
for the 'pipa'," she said, referring to the tanker trucks that provide
water to the neighbourhoods that are not connected to the grid.

"Household tasks take longer, and the women arrive late at work, which
generates problems due to incomprehension. It's a chain of things that
are affected in their personal lives, with a heavy impact on their
physical and mental health." -- Reina Fleitas
Arrascaeta said the worst thing is the constant stress due to this
problem, which in this Caribbean island nation has structural causes
related to the crumbling water treatment and supply infrastructure, and
was aggravated this year due to record drought.

In Old Havana, at the heart of the Cuban capital, the situation is no
better, says Yaritsa Oliveros, who lives in Jesús María, one of the
neighbourhoods in the old city. At the age of 25 she supports her mother
and her four-year-old daughter working as a cleaning woman in a
municipal government office.

"We go several days without water and suddenly it starts to flow in our
building in the early hours of the morning," she told IPS. "We collect
all we can in different containers, because we don't know when the taps
will run again."

Three years ago her neighbourhood was the focus of an academic study
that covered 166 households, home to a combined total of 528 people,
56.1 percent women and girls and 43.9 percent men and boys. Of that
sample, 57 percent of the families were headed by a woman, with varying
educational levels.

Most of the people surveyed said that every two or three days they had
to haul water to their homes. The worst difficulties in terms of access
to water and sanitation were experienced in female-headed households.

"My mother complains of back pain, from having to carry so much water,"
said Oliveros, who does not know if her home was covered by the survey.

Sociologist Reina Fleitas, a researcher and professor at the psychology
department of the University of Havana, told IPS that the study, the
only one of its kind carried out so far in Cuba, even reflected problems
of domestic violence or violence among neighbours, caused by the tension
arising from the water shortages.

The survey also confirmed that women shoulder the greatest burden with
regard to the administration and use of water, because they organise and
reorganise their daily lives around its availability.

"Household tasks take longer, and the women arrive late at work, which
generates problems due to incomprehension. It's a chain of things that
are affected in their personal lives, with a heavy impact on their
physical and mental health," Fleitas said.

The latest statistics from Cuba's National Water Resources Institute
(INRH), published in the government-controlled media, indicate that
while 73.5 percent of the Cuban population had access to piped water in
2014, a significant number of people were still not connected to the
water grid and received water supplies through other channels, such as
tanker trucks.

But over 50 percent of the water supply in the grid is lost due to leaky
old pipes.

The INRH is in charge of state policies on the water supply, and is
currently carrying out a programme aimed at gradually solving the
country's water problems.

"In my neighbourhood the lack of water has been aggravated by the
reparations taking place, but at least it gives us some hope that things
will get better one day," said Oliveros. "Although they also say that
because of the drought, the shortages will get worse."

Arrascaeta said that one of her neighbours calls the INRH every time the
situation becomes acute, and receives a wide range of excuses. "We don't
believe anyone anymore," she said.

The sixth of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established in
the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, approved at a global summit
in September at U.N. headquarters in New York, is: "Ensure availability
and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all".

"Our data from 45 developing countries show that in seven out of 10
households, the burden of collecting water falls to women and girls, so
access would also aid gender equity," Geeta Rao Gupta, deputy executive
director of the U.N. children's agency, UNICEF, said in October.

Professor Fleitas said a differentiated approach to the problem should
take into account that it is poor women, minorities, and other
vulnerable sectors that suffer discrimination who experience the worse
impacts of water shortages, a problem that is becoming more acute at a
global level.

With respect to water, Fleitas stressed how basic a need it is,
especially in the lives of women.

"It defines the organisation of their time; they wash, clean, scrub,
prepare food….they are responsible for inculcating in children a culture
of hygiene. We lament that is women who must carry the burden of this
responsibility, but we must not ignore this when it comes to political
decision-making," she said.

The professor also noted that besides being aggravated by climate
change, water shortages are accentuated by the growing number of wars in
the world, which destroy infrastructure and contaminate water sources.

"Investment in the arms race is given priority rather than spending on
the development of countries that have huge disadvantages when it comes
to providing a clean water supply," she complained.

As an island nation, Cuba depends largely on rainfall for its water
supply. But this year has been one of record drought. At the end of the
May to October rainy season, the country's 242 reservoirs held 4.5
billion cubic metres of water, only half of total capacity, which
indicates that the shortages will continue.

From November 2014 to October 2015, 68 percent of the national
territory was affected by drought. But worst-hit was the western end of
the island, a key food production area.

Edited by Estrella Gutiérrez/Translated by Stephanie Wildes

Source: Water Shortages Have a Heavy Impact on Women in Cuba | Inter
Press Service -

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