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CUBA
Preventing climate change
Lídice Valenzuela
7/31/2013
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Cubans have a high level of awareness that allows them react responsibly to natural phenomena.

When the Cuba Institute of Meteorology announces a possible natural phenomenon in the country, well-oiled state and individual procedures act principally to save lives. The  system is also organized this way in the name of  public goods and the still feeble economy of the Caribbean nation.

Cuba, due to its geographical location and it being an island, is vulnerable to all kinds of natural phenomena: hurricanes, storms, floods and droughts that jeopardize the country´s development plans.

For that reason, preventive measures were put in place following the passing of Hurricane Flora in 1961, which devastated the eastern part of the country, one of the most susceptible areas to such disasters. Today, government plans are being adjusted as global climate change stimulates natural phenomena in this region and wreaks havoc on its ecosystems.

Through concerted use of available scientific resources, Cuban authorities have organized a network of state and social structures that can prevent and evade the risk of disaster, while also implementing tools to address the nation’s vulnerability to climate change.

At the end of June the Center for Disaster Risk Reduction and Adaptation to Climate Change — a cooperation between Cuba and Norway— was founded in Havana. The program is led by Dr. Herminia Serrano, who will prepare scientists, members of the Civil Defense and government officials, among others, for the challenges that nature brings to Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean.

Speaking to Latinamerica Press, Dr. Serrano explained that, starting next September, the facility — the only one of its kind in the region — will host decision-makers and specialists in the field.

“In this first phase of work we will prioritize Haiti, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic, where risk studies will be conducted and training given the different actors in these islands,” she said.


The role of Civil Defense
The latest hurricane to batter the island was Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which virtually destroyed Santiago de Cuba, the country’s second largest city, with the death toll at 11, and losses to housing and the economy in the millions.

Despite the damage caused by these storms, the risk factor would have been even higher if there was not consistency in prevention and compliance with official norms recognized by the United Nations (UN) and various regional bodies.

After Hurricane Flora, the Civil Defense was established in Cuba, a flagship institution that acts in coordination with other agencies involved in dealing with natural disasters, such as the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (CITMA), the Institute of Meteorology, the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Interior, among other economic ministries and agencies.

The Civil Defense, taking into account the vulnerabilities caused by climate change, enforces multisectoral measures against possible dangers, in order to prevent or alleviate disaster risk throughout the country’s 168 municipalities.

This entity works in collaboration with resident scientists in the 15 Cuban provinces and the special municipality of Isla de la Juventud. To achieve a high rate of success, the Civil Defense is equipped with the latest technologies, technical resources, procedures and methodologies available in Cuba.

Especially important to this preventive framework is the high level of public awareness, which enables every citizen to act responsibly when confronted with a natural disaster. A very specific procedure to this system is the capacity for the preventive evacuation of thousands of people — who are then housed by the State or stay with families and friends —, while trained specialists watch over their assets from safe shelters within the neighborhoods at risk.

This constantly developing national platform, also guides policy formulation and the coordination of plans, programs and projects to reduce the impact of disasters on national development plans.

Information and training
Dr. Serrano said that the center she leads is based on providing knowledge and information updated by branches in order to achieve a well-structured risk prevention plan.

“To [achieve] that we have resident experts in Havana and other provinces responsible for giving courses and conferences,” she said. “It is vital for the Center to consolidate tasks around climate change, the consequences of which can be seen in Cuba in the rise in temperatures as well as CO2 levels in the atmosphere, severe droughts, rising sea levels and other prioritized events, due to its acceleration and the vulnerability it creates in various social and economic fields.”

According to Serrano, training of the officials involved in this complex matter will allow them to make important decisions, such as, for example, the designing of wider and more functional housing, agricultural planning in line with soil alterations and constructing away from low-lying coastal areas.

Meanwhile, the Environment Agency, part of CITMA, has implemented in situ measures in order to mitigate the visible consequences of climate change.

In fact, care and protection of coastal ecosystems is already being promoted. The process includes the protection of mangroves and the reforestation of dunes, which act as natural cyclone barriers. Although they do not stop the phenomena, they do reduce their strength before landfall. Deforestation is also monitored in order to maintain sustainable development in forested areas.
—Latinamerica Press.


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The center, led by doctor Herminia Serrano, will provide training on a regional level to confront the risks brought on by climate change. (Photo: Mariela Pérez Valenzuela)
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