With a population of approximately 2.1 million people, Havana is a popular tourist destination and country’s capital.1 Havana is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. It is Cuba’s largest city and its ecosystems and people are directly experiencing the effects of climate change as it is an urban coastal area. Havana’s most iconic tourist destinations is the city’s sea wall and promenade named El Malecón. Locals and tourists alike visit daily to walk along the wall and sunbathe.
El Malecón is lined with crumbling and decrepit buildings that have been pummeled by large waves throughout the decades. The buildings along the seawall have taken countless beatings by the ocean although many were not lucky enough to make it. As a result, the Cuban government has banned residential development on the oceanfront.2 More recently, Havana was hit with category 5 Hurricane Irma in September which caused significant flooding and compromised the livelihoods of many households. The UN reports that around 150,000 homes in Cuba were negatively affected by this powerful hurricane by total collapse, partial collapse, and roof losses.3
Havana lies at the edge of Cuba; an island country in both the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Havana became a city stuck in time in the 1950s following the Cuban Revolution. There are approximately 2.1 million people living amongst the rustic and sometimes crumbling buildings.4 The hazards that pose the largest risk have been identified as flooding, erosion, harm to public health and intensifying storm surge from growing and more frequent hurricanes. The people of Cuba rely heavily on cultivation of tobacco and other vegetation for their livelihood and to promote tourism. The effects of climate change can put an already decaying infrastructure and the people living in it in great danger.
Havana encounters many risks as a result of climate change. Sea level rise has proven to be a threat multiplier to many places and Havana is no exception. Island countries like Cuba around the world are beginning to experience increased and more intense storms. The hazards that are the most notable and focused on are coastal erosion, flooding, threats to public health, and increased storm intensity and frequency.
- 82% of the 499 beaches evaluated by CITMA have shown significant evidence of erosion. People in coastal communities are constantly moving inland after having their homes be destroyed by the sea. People living near El Malecón regularly experience erosion of their homes and also see the sandy beaches near them begin to disappear into the ocean. 5
Increased Storm Intensity and Frequency
- Cuba as well as many other island countries have seen increasing intensity and frequency of tropical storms and hurricanes. Most recently, Cuba was hit by Hurricane Irma which
- As a result of sea level rise and storm surge, Havana is flooding more and more. This causes a number of hazards including erosion of the old buildings by the salt water coming in from El Malecón and salt water intrusion by the sites of erosion on the ocean-front.
- The city relies on the South Havana aquifer for potable water and since the system is so outdated (1913), a large amount of freshwater is lost daily due to leaking in the old pipes that run throughout the region. The state of the system is especially prone to being exposed to saltwater intrusion, capable of causing a water crisis in Havana. Apart from the water being used in households, it is used in agriculture. If the freshwater were to be compromised by the ocean water, there would be a negative impact on availability of food.
- In addition to water and food scarcity, there may also be a threat of more sewers overflowing and causing an outbreak of Dengue fever stemming from mosquito larvae in sewage.6
Vulnerability and Exposure
- The country of Cuba seems to be stuck in the 1950s which is when the Cuban Revolution occurred. Following the overtaking of the country by Fidel Castro in 1959, the United States set an embargo that strangled Cuba's economy.7 Today, Havana boasts infrastructure built much before that time that has not been updated since before the revolution with the exception of government buildings such as 'El Capitolio'. In addition, Cuba's economy has not experienced much growth other than the waves of tourists from around the world. As a result of a number of reasons, Cuba is considered a developing country. Women, children and the elderly remain the most vulnerable individuals when it comes to adapting to climate change hazards such as a more intense hurricane season.
- Havana is one of the most popular destinations for tourists when they visit Cuba. The people of Havana make a majority of their money from either being a taxi driver, owning a restaurant or being an AirBnB host.8 As a result, the erosion caused by the more frequent and more intense storms can put the livelihoods in jeopardy.
- Due to logging, large parts of the mangrove forests in some parts of Havana have been depleted. The mangroves provide a barrier at the coast to prevent saltwater from mixing into fresh water.9
Adaptation, Resilience and Mitigation
- Tarea Vida (Project Life) has been developed by el Ministerio de Ciencia, Technología y Medio Ambiente (CITMA) or the Ministry for Science, Technology and the Environment in order for Cuba to combat the effects of climate change. The project began to form after 16 science institutions identified the risks of climate change and the vulnerabilities of Cuba for 2050-2100. CITMA has created a plan for adaptation that is split up into four different time periods including short term (2020), middle term (2030), long term (2050), and very long term (2100). The organization plans to prioritize the lives of people who live in the most vulnerable places by focusing on food security and the development of tourism. Havana is included in the list of regions considered most vulnerable which all fall on the coast of Cuba.
Tarea Vida includes 5 strategic actions and 11 tasks
1. No construction of new houses on communities or settlements on coasts which are considered to disappear due to erosion. Also, reduce population density in low coastal areas.
2. Develop standing infrastructure to adapt to coastal flooding.
3. Adapt all agricultural activities, particularly those with the greatest impact on the country's food security, to changes in sea level and drought trends.
4. To reduce cultivation areas that are close to the coast, diversify crops, improve soil conditions, introduce and develop varieties resistant to temperature changes.
5. To plan urban reordering of threatened settlements and infrastructures in correspondence with the economic conditions of the country, starting with lower cost measures such as natural solutions.
1. Identify and take action on projects to adapt to climate change, to reduce the vulnerability to the zones identified as priorities with the most actively threatened prioritized. Restoration of mangroves, protection of cities, relocation of human settlements, and integral recovery of beaches.
2. Implement the necessary legal norms to support the implementation of the plan as well as ensuring strict compliance. Prioritize coastal settlements under threat.
3. Conserve, maintain and fully recover the sandy beaches of the Cuban archipelago, prioritizing the urbanizations for tourist use and reducing the structural vulnerability of the built heritage.
4. Implement technologies to use water as a crucial resource to combat drought as well as to increase maintenance of systems already put in place.
5. Implement reforestation tactics to revive and protect soils and water in quantity and quality. Prioritize the reservoirs and coastal man-made waterways.
6. Stop deterioration, rehabilitate and conserve coral reefs throughout the archipelago, with priority on the ridges that border the insular platform and protect urbanized beaches for tourist use. Avoid overfishing the fish that favor corals.
7. Improve and create urban plans to combat vulnerability in coastal zones
8. Implement and control adaptation and mitigation measures to climate change derived from sectoral policies in programs, plans and projects related to food security, renewable energy, energy efficiency, land and urban planning, fisheries, agricultural activity , health, tourism, construction, transport, industry and integrated management of forests.
9. Strengthen monitoring, surveillance and early warning systems to systematically evaluate the status and quality of the coastal zone, water, drought, forest and human, animal and plant health.
10. Implement strategies to increase level of perceived risk and educate the public about the effects of climate change.
11. Manage and use available international financial resources.10
- The National Environment Strategy 2007/2010: This is a plan for dealing with Cuba's top environmental issues which are identified as land degradation, factors affecting forest coverage, pollution, loss of biological diversity and water scarcity by proposing policy. 11
- On a global scale: Thanks to the UNCCC's Fast-start Finance program, Cuba has received funding from Belgium, Italy, Norway, Spain, Switzerland adding up to around 8 million USD. 12
The island of Cuba as a whole is expected to experience the effects of climate change first hand in the coming decades as are many islands. Havana, a lively city that remains the capital, can be an opportunity to reach out to the rest of the world for assistance in the battle against climate change. Havana holds much potential for growth of the tourism sector, and a solid plan to develop technologies and strategies for the citizens to adapt to the increasing effects of climate change as well as to develop early warning systems. Although Cuba is considered a developing country, there is hope for change if projects such as Tarea Vida continue to be funded and supported.
Banner: Havana, Cuba. Digital Image. 22megapickles, imgur.com. Accessed April 20, 2018.
Background 1: Image by Laura Guiral
Background 2: Image by Laura Guiral
 Map of Cuba. Digital Image. Mapsopensource.com. Accessed April 22, 2018.
 Kubaney. (August 2007). Canto a La Habana. Retrieved from https://soundcloud.com/celia-cruz-official/canto-a-la-habana
 NBC News. Havana, Cuba Home Collapses Under Hurricane Irma's Wind, Streets Flooded. Retrieved April 20, 2018 from https://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=nbc+news+irma+cuba.
 Andrew Mclachlan. Digital Image. Mangroves on Cayo Guillermo, Cuba. Accessed April 21, 2018.
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 Potomo. Digital Image. Coastalcare.org. Accessed April 26, 2018.
 World Population Review. (2018). Retrieved April 19, 2018CIA. The World Factbook: Bhutan. (2017, January 12). Retrieved March 03, 2017 from http://worldpopulationreview.com/world-cities/havana-population/
 Ines Perez, special to E&E Climatewire: Monday, June 16, 2014. (2014, June 6). ADAPTATION: Cubans find preparing for climate change hard, expensive and essential. Retrieved February 26, 2018, from eenews.net
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 C. (n.d.). Tarea Vida. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from https://www.ecured.cu/Tarea_Vida
 Spiegel, J. M., Bonet, M., Ibarra, A., Pagliccia, N., Ouellette, V., & Yassi, A. (2007). Social and environmental determinants of Aedes aegypti infestation in Central Havana: results of a case-control study nested in an integrated dengue surveillance programme in Cuba. Tropical Medicine & International Health, 12(4), 503-510. doi:10.1111/j.1365-3156.2007.01818.x
 Vox (2016, April 12). A brief history of America and Cuba. Retrieved April 23, 2018, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chYBlArm9Ao
 Rosa Helena Pérez, Personal Communication, June 2017. Havana Cuba.
 Capote Fuentes, R. T. (2007, July 12). Resilience of Mangroves on the South Coast of Havana province, Cuba [PDF]. Bonn, Germany: University of Bonn.
 CITMA. Tarea Vida.
 UNDP (n.d.). Cuba Climate Change Adaptation. Retrieved April 26, 2018
 UNFCCC. Fast Finance.
About the Author
Laura Guiral is class of 2020 Environmental Studies major at St. Lawrence. She was born in Medellín, Colombia and resides in Connecticut. This webpage was made as a project for Adapting to Climate Change, a course taught by Dr. Jon Rosales at St. Lawrence University. After visiting Cuba with her family last summer, Laura was interested in learning about how Havana is affected by climate change and what the country is doing to adapt to the changes.