Saturday, June 21, 2014

Cubans find preparing for climate change hard, expensive and essential

Inez Perez in E&E News:  The Malecon stretches for 5 miles along the coast of Havana, flanked by a line of old, pastel-colored buildings. ... During the last couple of years, the area has undergone sporadic renovation in the hopes of bringing it back to its former glory, but now there is a bigger change being put in place: No more residential development will be allowed on the oceanfront.

This decision, and many others like it, can be traced back to the impacts of Hurricane Wilma in October 2005. While the hurricane never made landfall, its strong waves pounded the Malecon sea wall and flooded the streets to unprecedented levels.

The heavy damage -- estimated at around 704.2 million Cuban pesos ($26.6 million) -- and the prolonged disruption of basic public services, was a wake-up call. It prompted a series of actions that would eventually change the country's approach to climate change.

...Cuba has a long history of climate adaptation measures, even if they weren't originally conceived as such. For one, the country has a highly organized disaster prevention and management system, called Civil Defense, designed to protect lives in case of extreme hazards such as hurricanes.

The system was established after Hurricane Flora hit the Caribbean in 1963, leaving over 7,000 people dead in Haiti and Cuba. Now, the island (population 11,241,161 as of the last official census in 2010) consistently experiences the lowest death tolls during hurricane season in the region.

The country has also invested in education over many decades to help people deal with natural disasters. The emphasis, particularly after the Cuban Revolution, helped Cuban experts study and assess the impacts of climate variations.

...According to a report by Oxfam, in 1991, before there was an international commitment to tackle the causes of climate change, Cuba created the National Commission on Climate Change to study the different impacts of the phenomenon.

But as weather grew more extreme, the government realized it couldn't rely on disaster management alone. In 2005, right after Wilma broke havoc in Havana, Cuba's Environment Agency took on the task of mapping out the hazards, vulnerabilities and risks for the entire country....

The Malecon in Havana, shot by Antonio Milena, Wikimedia Commons via Agencia Brasil, under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Brazil license

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