Cuban hurricane risk management; could Western countries learn a thing or two from socialist Cuba?

On the topic of adaptive management for climate change, I came across an article about Cuba’s hurricane evacuation policy. This article highlights Cuban hurricane management procedures and frameworks, and compares them with those of the United States. I have sent the brief article to you via our McGill emails. The main point is that Cuba has adapted to the high threat of hurricanes and hurricane related disasters (flooding, heavy rains, high winds) in the Caribbean. The number of deaths/ hurricane in Cuba compared to the rest of the Caribbean countries and the United States in significantly lower (there is a chart in the article illustrating this fact with figures). These results are contributed to three major factors: 1. public awareness of hazard risk, 2. public policy commitment, and 3. applied scientific knowledge. Public awareness refers to the citizens’ knowledge of hurricane risk and how to act when a hurricane approaches. Moreover, it reflects the citizens’ personal response to hurricane warnings (i.e. heeding the warning rather than staying at home). Public policy is a unique quality to Cuba due to its long standing socialist government. Cuba;s political structure is relatively stable compared to democratic governments, in the sense that one party is long lived and there are few internal struggles. It is this institutional stability that allows for the implementation and evolution of long-term, practical plans, be they for hurricane risk management, education or health care (all of Cuba is far ahead of the United States). Lastly, applied scientific knowledge, refers to Cuba’s history of meteorological scientific research; during the 19th century the Spanish government and the Catholic Church developed in Havana the first meteorological service in the Caribbean region, around the same time as the Cold War, Cuba became self-sufficient in predicting hurricanes, with a network of hundreds of weather stations.
I will not go into detail about the chain that gets information about hurricane warnings to the Cuban citizens beyond mentioning that when there is a hurricane risk, the warming system is run by the National Defense Council and all media are fully subordinate to this council to broadcast the warnings an instruction to the public (there are no private networks).
I understand that Cuba operates under a system of social, economic and ideological frameworks unique from Western countries, and that these differences pose challenges for implementation of similar hurricane management plans. But, what is stopping Western countries from creating hurricane and other natural disaster adaptation plans that are efficient within their own frameworks? An interesting raised in this article was that Cuba developed such a strong plan out of necessity; Cuba has to be highly concerned about protecting its people due to severe economic constrains imposed by the US embargo. I found this interesting when compared to the damages and lives lost in Hurricane Katrina, where it seemed that human life, at least certain human life, was disposable in the United States (I am sure we are all aware of the demographics of New Orleans and wont dive into this as it is a whole other topic).
This example of hurricane management is the closest thing I have come across for actual policy implications for adapting to environmental disasters, which are set to increase in frequency and severity the world round. I wonder then, could ‘democratic’ developed countries learn a thing or two about environmental and social protection from socialist Cuba?

3 Responses to “Cuban hurricane risk management; could Western countries learn a thing or two from socialist Cuba?”

  1. Nice link between adaptation to environmental disasters and Policy implication! This is big time question to the fact that Why Western Country do not use Cuba system… Mummmm, let’s see… Why Cuba developed this system? They are yes in a socialist system but they are also isolated from the rest of the world. I am not a Cuba specialist but I think that Cubans have limited natural resource (as everyone else) and therefore they have to protect their land and people in order to survive. I think Venezuela and Cuba do some commercial trade but I don’t know at which extent (Gaz, I presume)… My point is: Did they develop this meteorological system because they have to protect their isolated environment? If no protection, then agriculture, forest, fisheries facilities are destroyed and therefore people are suffering from it (famine). What drive the development of meteorological system? It’s hard to determine… I am not 100% sure that the Cuban system is superior because of the political system (as suggested by Lino Naranjo Diaz from University of Santiago de Compostela). It may help yes (long term thinking), but I think the combination of the embargo and the permanent military aggression risk from United States really helped Cuba to be “independent” and resolved their own issues. The example of hurricanes appears to be very good… Well, it demonstrated that for hurricane protection, we should take advantage of Cuba… However, this was a “good” example… In a socialism environment, you don’t have the rights to give your opinion… If you or group thing that the socialist government goes in the wrong direction, you cannot tell them that they are wrong… You just can’t… We don’t have bad examples here, but I’m sure bad examples exist. We can seriously take this example (Hurricane research) as a very example of Hazard risk adaptation for us but how could it be achieved? Wow, this is very difficult to say… One thing I am sure is the fact that the mountain is high and very steep. One step at a time…

  2. Please, can you PM me and tell me few more thinks about this, I am really fan of your blog…

  3. nicole says:

    in what university do they offer risk management masters programme.