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Habaneros wade through floodwaters near El Malecón after Hurricane Irma.
On its deadly run through the Caribbean last September, Hurricane Irma lashed northern Cuba, inundating coastal settlements and scouring away vegetation. The powerful storm dealt Havana only a glancing blow; even so, 10-meter waves pummeled El Malecón, the city’s seaside promenade, and ravaged stately but decrepit buildings in the capital’s historic district. “There was great destruction,” says Dalia Salabarría Fernández, a marine biologist here at the National Center for Protected Areas (CNAP).
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As the flood waters receded, she says, “Cuba learned a very important lesson.” With thousands of kilometers of low-lying coast and a location right in the path of Caribbean hurricanes, which many believe are intensifying because of climate change, the island nation must act fast to gird against future disasters.
Irma lent new urgency to a plan, called Tarea Vida, or Project Life, adopted last spring by Cuba’s Council of Ministers. A decade in the making, the program bans construction of new homes in threatened coastal areas, mandates relocating people from communities doomed by rising sea levels, calls for an overhaul of the country’s agricultural system to shift crop production away from saltwater-contaminated areas, and spells out the need to shore up coastal defenses, including by restoring degraded habitat. “The overarching idea,” says Salabarría Fernández, “is to increase the resilience of vulnerable communities.”
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But the cash-strapped government had made little headway. Now, “Irma [has] indicated to everybody that we need to implement Tarea Vida in a much more rapid way,” says Orlando Rey Santos, head of the environment division at Cuba’s Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (CITMA) here, which is spearheading...
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