Havana, Between Filth and Social Indiscipline / Ivan Garcia
Posted on May 29, 2013
Although a sputtering Russian-made truck and its crew passed through the
Sevillano neighborhood picking up trash and garbage in the streets the
night before, debris had once again accumulated on the street corners by
"It never ends. At dawn every morning we go through areas of Diez de
Octubre picking up trash. We take tons of waste to the dump, but a
little later the street corners are overflowing with junk again," says
Orlando, a 35-year-old sanitation worker.
Directly facing the Plaza Roja in the heart of the Havana neighborhood
of La Víbora, there is an unoccupied building where neighbors dump
significant quantities of trash. Every so often large dump trucks and a
bulldozer carry off the piles of debris. A few days later the building
is once again filled with refuse and discarded objects.
The garbage trucks cannot always make their rounds. The drivers do what
they can with the aging fleet. Many of the vehicles remain idle due to a
lack of spare parts. Widespread indifference leads some people to steal
the wheels off the trash containers to make pushcarts. Or for fun, gangs
of youths turn trashcans over into the streets.
Public health and epidemiological officials launch media campaigns in an
effort to stem the illegal dumping, but they have little effect.
"Havana as a city is extremely vulnerable to diseases associated with a
lack of cleanliness. Unhealthy conditions as well as rats, mice,
mosquitoes as well as poor water treatment can lead to skin infections,
cholera and dengue fever," says a specialist.
In spite of some outbreaks of dengue fever and cholera, Havana has not
seen large-scale epidemics — at least not yet — even though dengue fever
has reached almost epidemic proportions.
Because potable water is not available 24 hours a day, a large segment
of the population is forced to store water in containers, and not always
in the most hygienic or careful way. As a result mosquito larvae
carrying hemorrhagic dengue fever can be difficult to eliminate.
"Ending the cycle of the dengue epidemic has so far proved to be
impossible. As long as current living conditions in Cuba persist, trying
to eradicate dengue is like tilting at windmills," says the head of a
brigade which fumigates houses in an attempt to prevent the illness.
A shortage of trash bins means pedestrians often throw peanut wrappers,
beer cans and other pieces of trash into the street. Because there are
fewer public restrooms — especially in bars, cafes and nightclubs — at
night many people urinate or defecate in public thoroughfares, on street
corners or in building stairways.
Public apathy and societal discontent among certain segments of the
population manifest themselves in acts of petty vandalism towards public
telephones, automatic teller machines and city buses.
The filth and stench have turned the capital into the dirtiest city on
the island. A shortage of trashcans and public idleness have caused the
streets to overflow with refuse and debris.
"If the accumulation of dirt and poor water treatment continue, an
epidemic of huge proportions could be unleashed in Havana in the near
future," warns an epidemiologist. We have been lucky so far.
18 May 2013