Plans are underway to install a water purification plant in the remote Cuban village of Corcovado in the eastern province of Granma.
H2OpenDoors, a U.S.-based non-profit organization that is part of Rotary International’s global network of humanitarian projects, installs water purification plants in rural communities in developing countries, where lack of water affects the living conditions of the population.
Jon Kaufman, H2OpenDoors project coordinator, is optimistic about the warming relations between Cuba and the United States and said the initiative of installing a water purification plant in Corcovado — population 1,500 — has received a “warm reception” by local Cuban authorities.
According to Kaufman, there is much more that can be done in Cuba by the international service organization.
“But the requirement is that there be a Rotary Club,” he said. “We can provide a lot of fundraising.”
The first Rotary club in a non English-speaking country settled in Havana in 1916. By 1957, there were about 60 clubs across the island. Rotary International decided to withdraw the clubs in 1979 on the basis that countries that restrict freedom of expression and assembly should not have clubs, according to the organization.
H2OpenDoors has installed water purification systems in Guatemala, Nepal, Haiti and the Philippines, among other places. After more than a year of planning and representatives traveling back and forth to the island to explore rural areas and meet with Cuban local officials, H2OpenDoors received government approval to install a water system capable of purifying up to 5,000 gallons of water per day in an aquifer on private land in Corcovado.
During previous Cuba expeditions, the participants have met with Cuban entrepreneurs in several separate occasions. Another trip is scheduled for April, where H2OpenDoors will host a cocktail party with about 100 Cuban entrepreneurs interested in the potential to start a Rotary Club on the island.
The H2OpenDoors “voluntourism” Cuba expedition operating under a people-to-people/humanitarian license is a service and cultural exchange trip curated by the non-profit Bay Area Cuba Community Alliance and Travel Agency Marazul.
In rural Cuba, shortage of drinking water is a daily reality. But the harsh drought affecting eastern Cuba for several years has created a critical situation for the communities of the region, especially in the provinces of Granma, Las Tunas and Santiago de Cuba.
Although the Cuban government has installed some water purification plants by Chinese manufactures in several eastern communities and the United Nations Development Programme supports the government institutions in the sustainable management of water resources, there are many communities like Corcovado, located about 61 miles from province capital Bayamo, where residents still rely on a rudimentary system to get their water.
Corcovado dwellers have no access to safe drinking water and rely on water delivered by oxcarts from a near “waterpoint” .
Waterpoints are sometimes located in areas where there is livestock. “The water may be contaminated,” Kaufman said.
H2OpenDoors’ water systems can provide half a gallon of purified water per day for as many as 10,000 people. Kaufman said residents of Corcovado can further benefit from the plant by “doing a water business that the people can profit from and would benefit the entire community.
“Cubans are used to get everything from the government,” he said. “This is different, but that has to be seen.”
Profiting from the sale of water from water purification plants is something that the Cuban government already does. That is the case of “Pocito Micro-9” in Santiago de Cuba where purified water is sold at 20 cents (local currency) a liter.
During their previous expeditions to the island, H2OpenDoors has made donations to the residents of Corcovado, including school supplies, children’s clothing and baseball equipment, Kaufman said.
“The town had been home to one of the best community baseball teams in Cuba, but they have been unable to play for over two years for lack of equipment,” Kaufman said. “They were so happy that they hosted us for a feast.”
A few days later, the government brought to Corcovado medical supplies that the residents of the village had been asking for a long time.
“I think they were embarrassed,” Kaufman said. “Cubans are optimistic and there is this big promise with the U.S. and that’s what gets them hopeful. But maybe progress will be pushed by this embarrassment,” he said.
Follow Abel Fernández on Twitter: @abelfglez