Climate Change and Cuba’s Coastal Towns

HAVANA, may 28th (HT) By Pilar Montes Surrounded by the sea and the lagoons of the Zaza River, the communities of Tunas de Zaza y El Medano in Sancti Spiritus live under constant danger of flooding.

HAVANA TIMES – The effects of climate change still don’t exist for many people, most notably US president Donald Trump, while others do believe in it but think these changes will happen in the distant future.

However, hurricanes that have swept through the Cuban capital in recent years have shown us sea surges which come into the city by up to half a kilometer.

Coastal towns in the middle of the country, such as Tunas de Zaza and El Medano, fishing towns in the Sancti Spiritus province, are some of the populations that are already suffering the effects of climate change today.

It’s true that only 10% of the Cuban population live by the sea, but if you take scientific calculations into account, which indicate that sea levels will rise by 27cm by 2050 and 87cm by 2100, then we can say that many towns such as Tunas de Zaza and El Medano will no longer exist before the end of the 21st century.

It is estimated that 2.32% of this archipelago’s land will be under water in 2050, and the sea will cover 5.45% of Cuba’s total land area in 2100.

This voracity of the world’s seas will need us to give priority to engineering processes and measures so as to protect the population in 63 of the 93 coastal settlements most at high risk.

Although local communities in Tunas de Zaza and El Medano have had to be evacuated whenever hurricanes have struck, their inhabitants resist leaving their homes for good and it makes perfect sense because these families find their livelihood in the sea.

The “Tarea Vida” project, passed by Cuban Parliament, has put risk awareness of the effects of climate change in the Ministry of Higher Education’s hands, as well as the development of crops with strains that are resistant to drought and soil salinity.

The program also intends to extend to the municipalities of Puerto Padre, Jesus Mendendez, Manati and Amancio Rodriguez in Las Tunas province. In order to tackle their vulnerability to these effects, coastal settlements will be moved further from the sea, 19 hectares of mangroves will be reforested in order to protect the coastline, including the sandy Covarrubias beach in Puerto Padre.

Twenty-five new drought-resistant strains of root vegetables, vegetables and grains have been introduced, taking advantage of eight kilometers of irrigation canals and setting up drinking water supplies in areas that have seen saltwater intrusion.

What the new Constitution has to say about this:

In Article 16, the new Cuban Constitution stipulates “the protection and conservation of the environment as well as responding to climate change (…) with the recognition of common, yet differential, responsibilities; the establishment of a more just and equitable international economic order as well as the eradication of irrational patterns of production and consumption.”

In Article 75, it says that: “All persons have the right to enjoy a natural environment that is healthy and stable. The State protects the environment and the country’s natural resources. It recognizes their close linkage with the sustainable development of the economy and society to make human life more rational and to ensure the security of current and future generations.

The people ruling this country from now on will have to do good on this commitment.
First published by Havana Times