Climate Change: Cuba’s Fight Against Extreme Drought

By Alejandra Garcia on March 14, 2023, from Havana

photo: Bill Hackwell

Cuba is particularly vulnerable to climate change, being an island and a tropical country. Cycles of drought, hurricanes, and rainfall are becoming more frequent and intense, impacting people’s lives as never before.

Currently, the island-nation is facing an unprecedented drought. The National Institute of Meteorology and authorities of the ministries and entities associated with the country’s water resources and the environment are not downplaying the situation: the drought is extreme, and Cubans from the east to the west of the island are feeling its consequences.

“The nation is practically in the most extreme period, and it should extend during the next months of the low rainy season, March, April and May,” warned Vladimir Guevara, scientific director of the Cuban National Institute of Meteorology.

According to the National Institute of Hydraulic Resources (INRH), more than 400,000 people are directly affected by the drought, especially residents of Guantánamo, Camagüey, Santiago de Cuba, Havana, and Holguín provinces. But the numbers of those who are affected in one way or another by this reality are more extensive.

The head of the INRH, Antonio Rodríguez, explained to the local press in recent days that 94 percent of the national territory is affected in some way by the drought due to the fact that the accumulated rainfall is so far below the annual average. “And it is expected that the population affected by the deficit in water supply will increase even more,” he added.

Between March 1 and 10, 137 municipalities in Cuba reported no rainfall. The intense drought has triggered several forest fires, particularly in Holguín, where two large fires have been recorded in the region’s mountainous areas in recent weeks. Thousands of hectares were reduced to ashes, while the fires devoured flora and fauna species, many of them endangered species.

The lack of water is also having a negative impact on agriculture. Eduardo Peña, a farmer who works on a small farm in the central province of Ciego de Avila, anticipates a poor harvest in the coming months. “Without water, you can’t succeed in sowing,” he said.

Crops such as rice, potato, tobacco, plus pig breeding, are the greatest concern among producers and farmers due to the increase in temperatures.

This is a matter of great concern in the country, not only because of its direct impact on the shortage of water for human consumption, but also on agriculture and the supply of food to millions of Cubans.

And the question arises, what is Cuba, its government and its people doing to cope with the situation?

“The country is not standing idly by,” Cuba’s deputy prime minister Inés María Chapman Waugh, who was president of INRH for many years and is an eminent figure in the sector, said in a recent interview. “We are adapted to fighting extreme droughts at this time of year. Climate change has only aggravated this reality little by little”.

In the last 15 years, Cuba has lost almost 30 billion dollars as a result of the impact of hurricanes and droughts, especially in the agricultural and food sectors.

Cuba’s reservoir system is one of our strengths, and it is designed to deliver water to the population and the productive fabric. Cuba, which does not have large rivers and depends on rainfall, has almost 250 dams with a total capacity of 8,784 million cubic meters, with almost 800 kilometers of canals connected to these reservoirs.

Despite of these resources, INRH is focusing its efforts on encouraging rational water use and minimizing leakage. Community and individual commitment will be a key contributor to saving water.

“There are policy instruments, such as the Tarea Vida policy, that are also being implemented to help cope with the drought and its impact on sectors of the economy and the society,” Chapman added.

The availability and efficient use of water to cope with drought is one of the 11 tasks envisioned by Tarea Vida, implemented since 2017, as well as directing reforestation toward maximum soil and water protection.

“Climate change is advancing and human action exacerbates it. Those are certainties. We must be together in this constant struggle to coexist with nature and move the country forward in the meantime,” Chapman concluded.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano – US