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Weathering The Storm -Lessons In Risk Reduction From Cuba
“Cuba’s success in saving lives through timely evacuation when Hurricane Michelle struck in November 2001 gives us a model of effective government-driven disaster preparedness. This is all the more impressive when one considers that Cuba, although possessing a strong central… government, is a poor country. What was the secret of Cuba’s success?” -International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) Disasters Report 2002 p.28
Cuba’s achievements in risk reduction come from an impressive multi-dimensional process. Its foundation is a socio-economic model that reduces vulnerability and invests in social capital through universal access to government services and promotion of social equity. The resulting high levels of literacy, developed infrastructure in rural areas and access to reliable health care and other created capital function as “multiplier effects” for national efforts in disaster mitigation, preparation and response.
At the national level, Cuba’s disaster legislation, public education on disasters, meteorological research, early warning system, effective communication system for emergencies, comprehensive emergency plan, and Civil Defense structure are important resources in avoiding disaster. The Civil Defense structure depends on community mobilization at the grassroots level under the leadership of local authorities, widespread participation of the population in disaster preparedness and response mechanisms, and accumulated social capital.
Both the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) have repeatedly pointed out Cuba as an example for other countries to emulate in risk reduction. As the number of deaths from weather-related disasters continues to rise worldwide, it is increasingly imperative to protect those populations most vulnerable to hazards. Fundamentally, long term national and international strategies of sustainable development are the necessary basis for achieving comprehensive risk reduction for vulnerable populations. With the current absence of that commitment within national and international structures, it is important to explore successful shorter term strategies and mechanisms for risk reduction that can be implemented with limited financial resources by local governments.
The increasingly popular Community Based Disaster Management (CBDM) approach focuses on strengthening capacity and building skills for risk reduction at the community level. Cuba shows us a rare example of successfully building CBDM into a national risk reduction program. Examining Cuba’s experience, Oxfam America argues that strengthening community capacity, strong coordination of local actors and investing in social capital are determinate factors for successful risk reduction.
This report hopes to present a comprehensive overview of the Cuban model of risk reduction in disaster mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery and explore what may be adapted from this model in other countries. This report focuses on specific recommendations for Central America. The final section of this report draws out several mechanisms from the Cuban model that might be adapted to Central America based on that region’s rich history of grassroots experience in social organization.
Although the report aims for a complete explanation of the Cuban model, it does not pretend to provide an exhaustive review of risk reduction in Central America. The goal of “Weathering the Storm: Lessons in Risk Reduction from Cuba” is to provide information, offer ideas and provoke discussion to improve strategies of risk reduction at the community level in Central America, contributing to a culture of prevention.