Cuba gripped by worst drought in a decade

Campaign News | Wednesday, 16 June 2004

Vice President visits crisis areas

HAVANA, June 18 - Cuba's worst drought in a decade has dried up reservoirs and stunted crops, including sugar cane for next year's harvest, officials and industry sources say.

Authorities on the island are scrambling to get water to residents in central and eastern parts of the country and to limit damage to agriculture.

Next year's sugar crop has been seriously stunted, according to industry sources, and coffee, rice and citrus are also hurting. The government reported that 36,000 head of cattle had died in the province of Camaguey.

Vice President Carlos Lage toured the hardest hit provinces of Camaguey, Holguin and Las Tunas, where hundreds of thousands of people are relying on water trucked in every five to 10 days, official media said on Friday.

"There is drought across the country. It is the driest year in 10 years," Lage said during his trip on Thursday. Areas such as Holguin were suffering the driest weather in 43 years, he added.

The official daily newspaper Granma reported that between April 2003 and May 2004 rainfall in parts of central and eastern Cuba was 16 inches (40 cm) below the norm.

Lage said plans to build aqueducts linking capital cities of Holguin, Camaguey and Las Tunas to distant rivers and reservoirs would begin to alleviate the crisis by September, adding the government was sinking hundreds of wells and mobilizing all available tanker trucks.

"I am terrified of hurricanes, but the situation is so bad I pray every night for one to cross over the entire country so at last we have water," said 87-year-old Argelia Rodriguez in a phone interview from Camaguey.

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