Cuba: Drought - Emergency Plan of Action DREF Operation n° MDRCU003 Final Report

A. Situation Analysis

Description of the Disaster

A long continuous drought combined with heavy rainfall attributed to the El Niño phenomenon and climate change over the past two years brought difficult times for Cuba. In recent years, rainfall patterns during both the dry and rainy seasons have not reached normal historical values, which has caused a decrease in groundwater resources and the drying up of the rivers and dams on which the population depends on for its water supply.

Cuba is now suffering from the effects of climate change, especially temperature rise and a severe drought, which is considered the worst in the last 115 years. Decreased accumulated rainfall for more than 12 months caused the country’s dams to drop 38 per cent below their capacity; in addition, 98 water reservoirs were below 25 per cent and 26 were completely dry at the time of the writing of this report.

The National Institute of Water Resources (INRH for its acronym in Spanish) reported that the situation was getting more complex and critical due to the long drought and the continuous drop in the levels of the dams. The driest groundwater basins were in the Eastern region of the country, especially in the Santiago de Cuba province, which has a population of 1,057,404 inhabitants: 71 per cent in urban areas and 29 per cent in rural areas. With less than 30 per cent of water capacity in reservoirs and rainfall dropping below historical averages, this region was facing one of the most severe droughts in the country’s history.

The province of Santiago de Cuba has nine municipalities, four of which were the most affected by the drought: Santiago de Cuba, Palma Soriano, III Frente and Guamá; the drought affected approximately 520,560 people (94,000 families), and urban areas were the most seriously affected. May is considered the rainiest month in Cuba (onset of the rainy season); however, rainfall has decreased significantly due to climate variability, particularly in Santiago de Cuba. The beginning of the rainy season (from May to October) was affected by the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) event, which has persisted in the equatorial Pacific Ocean since early 2015, reaching its peak in November of the same year. Currently, most models forecast a transition to a neutral condition during spring in the Northern Hemisphere and show the likelihood of La Niña re-emerging during the summer.

Usually when a strong El Niño event decreases in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean, rainfall during the onset of the rainy season tends to drop below average, particularly between May and June; nonetheless, it is important to note that not all El Niño events behave similarly due to the changing patterns of ocean-atmospheric circulation.

The Cuban government has been supplying drinking water through water trucks; however, the long drought has exceeded their capacity and therefore a relief intervention is needed. In this regard, the government set up a water distribution system based on water cycles, which consisted of supplying water during a 24-hour period to specific areas and then suspending the service for several days, which affected water storage at the household level. For this reason, government authorities and the Cuban Red Cross identified a great need in the communities for water containers to increase water storage capacity in households and meet the affected families’ needs. The provision of 1,500-litre water tanks to health centres with the aim of increasing their water storage capacity was also been identified as a priority; other actions included the provision of 200-litre tanks and 10-litre buckets for the storage of drinking water in households.