A Cuban model for a resilient Caribbean

Risk Reduction Management Centers, a successful initiative in hurricane-prone Cuba, are being scaled up across partnering Caribbean states.

With a population of 36 million, the Caribbean region is home to a diverse array of languages and cultures, to islands large and small, to major coastal cities and small mountain villages. But for all its diversity, its countries and territories share an important trait – exposure to a yearly hurricane season that can, at times, have devastating impacts.

The impact of hurricanes in the Caribbean is widespread, severe and expanding. Hurricane Sandy in 2012 impacted countries from Jamaica and Cuba, eventually causing damage all the way up the eastern seaboard of the U.S. through to New York. With the likelihood that climate change will exacerbate the frequency and intensity of the yearly hurricane season, comprehensive measures are needed to protect at-risk communities.

In response to such hydro-meteorological threats, the Cuban government has collaborated with UNDP Cuba and UNDP’s Caribbean Risk Management Initiative since 2005 to create the Risk Reduction Management Center (RRMC), a model of local risk reduction management. At the heart of the model is the promotion of local level decision-making that relies on coordinated early warning systems, risk and vulnerability studies, communications systems, effective database management and mapping, GIS, and community preparedness.

The Cuban Risk Reduction Management Centre model serves as an instrument to ensure that disaster management and development practices in any given territory are informed by an analysis of risk and vulnerability. In addition, each RRMC supports isolated and far-flung communities that may not have access to information so that they can prepare for an approaching threat. Communities are provided with equipment and training to identify, reduce and communicate risk, as well as take effective protective measures.

The Cuban government has established a total of 8 provincial and 84 municipal centers, linked to 310 communities. Since the model’s establishment, the centers have helped communities significantly reduce the impact of hurricanes by facilitating community awareness and preparedness.

In the last 10 years, Cuba has been affected by 15 tropical cyclones, of which 11 were classified as hurricanes. In this period, Cuba’s Civil Defense system, supported by the RRMC at a local level, has protected more than 8 million people, evacuated more than 47,000 tourists and relocated three settlements.

“The essence of RRMC is disaster risk reduction, to promote collective knowledge and information management for decision making at the local government level. This instrument represents an investment for disaster risk reduction, which is in line with the message sent from the United Nations: for every one dollar we invest in prevention and preparedness to reduce risk, we will save seven dollars during response and recovery,” says Claudio Tomasi, Resident Representative, UNDP Cuba.

The RRMC model has generated widespread interest in the region and has led to groundbreaking South-to-South cooperation. Starting in 2009, the lessons learned while implementing RRMC in Cuba have been offered to neighbors. The British Virgin Islands, the Dominican Republic, Guyana, Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have all received support via tools, regional trainings, technical assistance and pilot initiatives. Cuba, in collaboration with UNDP Cuba and CRMI, has worked with these countries and territories to adapt the model to their respective national contexts, strengthening risk reduction practices. The long-term aim of this South-South Cooperation was to strengthen local disaster management systems so that DRR would be better integrated into disaster management planning and territorial development. The Cuban model is a tool that will, in time, enable risk-informed development throughout the Caribbean.

“The Risk Reduction Management Centre will allow us to prevent, mitigate and respond to flood events throughout the year,” notes Leonardo Valdez Recio, the Fire Corps Superintendent of La Victoria, Dominican Republic. “All institutions will communicate constantly to make decisions that will prevent and reduce damages and lessen the effect on the population.”

A successful model of regional collaboration and south-south cooperation, the Cuban RRMC model will be presented by Government and UNDP colleagues at the upcoming World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in Sendai, Japan.