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Liquidity of liquid

ACUEDUCTOIn the midst of a tidal wave of rate increases in Cuba, the Higher Organization for Business Management (OSDE) for Water and Sanitation announces new rates for hydraulic and sewerage services .

Although it exceeds the multiplication table used for other products, an increase of 700 percent for drinking liquid, historically almost given away the service, continues to be laughable: the bills will reach between just 1.75 and 21 pesos per month per inhabitant, no more .

This only applies to houses connected to aqueducts, but the rest of the residential prices also oscillate by these figures, while the amount for wastewater treatment is, as usual, lower (precisely 30 percent of the amount per The consumption of water). Compared with the increase in the Unión Nacional Eléctrica, or with the new price of any pizza in Old Havana, this increase respects the preschool philosophy that no one is denied water.

In any case, these prices are not yet final – Yunior González, vice president of OSDE, puts the patch on it -; there will be a period of up to a year to study and decide how much they will eventually amount to .

Now … Will this increase in prices guarantee a better quality of services?

“From a purely economic analysis, our companies will continue in a similar situation”, confesses González, a hydraulic engineer by training. “Rates were increased, but also expenses; then we will continue the same. However, our workers, who previously earned 300 pesos on average (of the lowest wages in the country), today receive a higher amount and that will inevitably lead to better service ”.

According to calculations by OSDE, producing a cubic meter of water, from the reservoir to the tap, costs 1.48 pesos . From there, expenses such as electricity, chemicals, salaries and maintenance of the infrastructure are deducted.

However, for that same liquid volume barely 99 cents are recovered. This occurs, to a large extent, due to “losses due to leaks, a group of people who do not pay for the service or the inefficiencies of the company in managing the collection.”

Close the tap of waste

To improve the taxation process, the OSDE has considered solving the last of these problems by installing new meters in family and work centers.

The goal for 2021 is to manufacture 120,000 meter meters . Firstly, existing and obsolete ones that are on the brink of their useful life will be replaced, also those that suffer some kind of breakage. This task will have to use about 62,000 teams. The rest will be used to cover the demand of state centers, those in the self-employed sector linked to production and those in the residential area, in this order of priority.

Everything will be with the policy of “getting in” where there is a stable flow of water, with good service in terms of time, volume and quality; and then move on to other less advantaged places, such as those that have, say, water every three days, ”explains González, clarifying that only 47 percent of the population receives this liquid daily or on alternate days.

The vice president of the OSDE assures that installing more meters not only helps to obtain more income, but also promotes savings, since it is proven that in the localities where it begins to “meter”, water consumption decreases by a quarter .

The project can achieve that more than 99 cents are entered per cubic meter. If n however, will not change much the picture of the company, for 1.48 pesos is not the “real” cost of production . The true one, the net according to international prices of oil that feeds a kilowatt in Cuban thermoelectric plants, or of imported chemical products and spare parts equipment, is much higher.

“I have a lot of subsidies behind me that I am still not able to account for my expenses. The sum of 1.48 pesos is the expense of the OSDE, but when I extrapolate that to the highest office of the State, the expenses are higher, because I am accounting for the electricity with the value that they charge me, for example. There, in itself, there is already a subsidy that I cannot see ”, argues González. “The truth is that the water supply service is one of the most expensive in the world.”

The OSDE of Water and Sanitation and the Cuban business system of aqueducts and drains should not – and for now cannot – raise their rates excessively as long as “water is not denied” and remain socialist state companies that provide a vital service to the population . They are entities that, plainly, were not conceived to profit, which does not mean that a night of waste comes to which the hand will go, as Ana Belén sang.

Under this logic, more is gained by promoting savings, modernizing the hydraulic infrastructure to improve efficiency, or simply reducing water losses. Any of these three routes is more feasible for the profitability of the company, than the hackneyed – and apparently in danger of becoming fashionable – solution of raising prices.

In fact, González acknowledges, the heart of the matter lies in water losses; The same occurs in the conductors of wells, as in the distribution of urban networks or, even, in indoor spaces from common leaks.

The profitability of the service will continue to depend on the saving capacity and the reduction of water losses that the country achieves. (Photo: Radio Rebelde)

“Every cubic meter that is saved or not lost will reach a user from whom you can charge it. In addition, the service will improve and our effort will be socially recognized by the population. Or, simply, we will not have to pump that cubic meter, which represents less water and electricity costs, ”says González.

Excited, the engineer ponders the aqueducts of Japan and Germany – the best in the world, he maintains – which, after millionaire investments and advanced technology, have managed to waste only about five percent of the water.

The reality of Cuba is very different. In 2020, almost half of every cubic meter of water pumped was lost. In more exact figures, about 43 percent. However , the trend has been to reduce this waste little by little, year after year, since 2019 closed with 47 percentage points and for 2021 it is planned to drop to 39.

Over the years, the government has invested millions in the search for optimal efficiency through the Cuban Hydraulic Rehabilitation Program. But this has been delayed by the ups and downs of the budgetary bets: There is still too much to do, and while the scarce and intermittent water resources of a salinized island continue to be wasted.

The aquifer issue is so complex that it is necessary to go beyond the wallet to perceive that this rise in rates is now a secondary topic. After all, the new price per inhabitant per month, as the vice president of OSDE sentenced, “is almost symbolic.”

(Taken from Bohemia )

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