Relief food assistance to drought victims in five eastern provinces of Cuba

News and Press Release
Originally published
Duration: September 1998/31 May 1999
Number of Beneficiaries: 615,195
Total Cost to WFP: 20,484,714

1.1 The production of food crops in Cuba has been seriously affected by the erratic weather patterns associated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation phenomenon (ENSO) during the planting and growing seasons of 1997 and 1998. From May to October of 1997, usually the period with the most intense rainfall, planting of foodcrops had to contend with both very high temperatures and a deficit in rainfall of around 50 to 75 percent of the average rain volume for that six month period. Although this condition affected the country as a whole, the hardest hit areas were the Eastern provinces. Subsequent weather patterns only compounded the problem for food producers. During what is normally the dry season of November 1997 to April 1998, all the provinces with the exception of Las Tunas experienced record rainfall, amounting to over 250 percent of average. This volume of water was in the form of short duration, intense tropical storms which caused damage by flooding and wind destruction.

1.2 Abnormal weather carried on into the rainy, food planting season of 1998, again affecting with particular severity the Eastern provinces of Holguin, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo. As an average for these provinces this period has been the driest in the last 35 years. Rainfall has been 40 percent of the historic averages. Most critically affected has been the province of Guantanamo. The southern and northern municipalities of this province registered high temperatures, with rainfall levels of less than 10 percent of average and high evaporation conditions. In the province of Holguin the months of April and May were the driest since 1941. In Las Tunas rains were only 22 percent of the normal pattern. In both Granma and Santiago de Cuba rainfall was less than 40 percent of the average and drought conditions were especially prevalent during the months of May, June and July.

1.3 One of the most dramatic effects of the lack of rains has been the drastic reduction in the availability of drinking water for human consumption in the provinces' dams and reservoirs, which at the moment hold less than 50 percent of capacity. Furthermore the utilization of these dams is limited due to the state of disrepair of the infrastructure and lack of pumping equipment to replace the obsolete machinery available. In Granma and Holguin, with only one-third of their requirements, over 400,000 persons are receiving water rations by tanker truck at present.

1.4  Crop losses in the five eastern provinces affected now total $60 million for the 1997/1998 crop year. They could climb to $205 million if droughts conditions persist. The proposed targeted food aid of $21.3 million amounts to about 10 percent of the anticipated food losses.

1.5  The 1997 harvest losses amount to $62.4 million in terms of vegetables, rice and beans. For the 1998 planting season it has been estimated that 99,403 hectares (38,685 ha. in State farms and 60,718 ha. in private sector farms) dedicated to food staples have been affected with total crop losses occurring in about 22 percent of the farming area. The affected area represents 24 percent of the total cultivated land in the five provinces. In addition, because of the lack of fodder and water, 3,500 head of cattle have been sacrificed, and emergency water rations are being given to another 37,000 head of cattle. 10,000 animals were moved to higher ground hoping to get better moisture and pasture conditions. Losses in the livestock sector amount so far to 4,040 tons of meat and 6.2 million liters of milk with a value in excess of $8 million.

1.6 Food losses for 1998 in the hardest-hit five eastern provinces amount to 259,000 metric tons with an approximate value of $60 million. This is shown in the following table, which was prepared on the basis of information specifically collected by the FAO/WFP/UNICEF/ UNDP local assessment mission in the five affected provinces in July 1998. Further, it is estimated that the farmers most affected by the drought are those producers in the private sector, 22,300 farmers, 8,700 of whom are in self-help cooperatives and 13,600 individual producers. Even when compared to the expected "normal" production of these items for the whole country, 1,933,300 tons, these losses are significant, representing 13.4 percent of the total.

Table 1: Food Losses by Product for 1998 in the five eastern provinces*

State Farms Has.
Private Sector Has.
Viandas: Roots/Tubers
204,314 (1)

* Figures supplied to the mission by the Government of Cuba

Table 2: Anticipated additional losses for 1998 Total (MT)

Viandas: Roots/Tubers

(1) Grain equivalent of roots and tubers is a ratio of one to 4 or respectively 51,078 MT and 119,002 MT.
(2) Estimate of losses does not include a projection of additional losses of fruits for August-September.

1.7 The roots and tubers are commonly known as "viandas" in Cuba, and include yucca, sweet potatoes, frying bananas, and squash. This is an important item in the diet of the general population because it constitutes about 30 percent of their diet. Since many rural families have lost their stocks and have to purchase their average monthly consumption (60 lbs. per family) in the open market, at a cost of 2.5 Cuban Pesos per lb., a family would have to allocate 50 percent of income just for this item.

1.8 If drought conditions persist until September of this year, the Inter-agency assessment mission estimated that an additional 100,000 hectares will be affected in the five provinces with a potential additional loss for the year of 608,562 tons of food crops (4,837 tons of beans, 10,328 of fruits, 51,441 tons of cereals, 65,946 tons of vegetables, and 476,010 tons of roots and tubers), with a value of $145 million. By mid-August, drought conditions were continuing. Rainfall levels were still below the averages of past years, and were predicted to continue to end September. Thus the total losses for 1997/98 could be as high as $205 million dollars of which $60 million has already occurred and $145 million additional loss could occur by end September.

1.9 The Government assigns special priority to the nutritional status of vulnerable groups, i.e. pregnant and nursing women, children under five years old, primary and secondary school students, disabled persons and the elderly. Even in a situation of limited resources, efforts are made to guarantee an adequate diet for them. This is the orientation of the emergency food aid requested from WFP, to enable an adequate supply of essential staples to these groups and avoid nutritional hardship as a result of crop failure.


2.1 During the last trimester of 1997 and first of 1998 the Government, together with UN agencies, established a working group to quantify the damages and impact of the ENSO (El Niño) in Cuba and propose contingency measures to face and correct the impact on food production. Prior to this, the National High Command of the Civil Defense sent an alert to all organs and entities of the Central Government and to the Presidents of the Popular Power Provincial Assemblies, the heads of Government at provincial level, about the potential ENSO damage and the need to take appropriate preventive measures. In this way the Government activated the Civil Defense mechanisms, and each Provincial Government prepared or updated its own Contingency Plan for Cases of Severe Drought.

2.2 For the agricultural sector these plans included activities for the protection of crops and livestock, water sources, and undertaking measures with quick impact in food production, and increasing levels of food supplies to the population. Specific measures are the rehabilitation of irrigation equipment, supplying water through water tankers, planting short duration food crops, intensive vegetable gardening, and moving livestock to areas with better water conditions. However, because of the extent of the drought and the limited availability of resources, the Government at present is not in a condition to face this emergency with its own resources and has requested the assistance of UN Agencies and Programmes.

2.3 For the education sector, the measures adopted by the Government in each Province aim at guaranteeing an adequate diet to children in Infant Circles, and to ensure that the State Entities, and Local Production Enterprises supply the schools, especially the Boarding schools their food requirements consisting of 26 lbs. of "viandas" and 15 lbs. of vegetables per month per person. However many of the self-consumption farms operated by the Education sector which provide these staples have experienced losses of 50 to 70 percent because of the drought and are in no position to supply the schools.

2.4 In the health sector the priority is to maintain an adequate service to the vulnerable groups, nursing and pregnant women, children, disabled and elderly, and therefore the provision of food supplies and health care is an important element. However, it has often been observed that the caloric content and nutritional value of both the health and school rations has been affected because of the lack of variety and quality of the components with an increase in carbohydrates (rice, cereals, flour products), and less fats and protein (milk and milk products, oils and fresh meat products).

2.5 The National Nutrition Action Plan of Cuba contemplates among its main activities the implementation of a Nutritional Surveillance System which is the instrument that allows the monitoring of the nutritional status of the population most affected by drought.

2.6 Government policy is to ensure full equality of women in all aspects of social participation particularly related to employment, access to social services including health and education, and legal status. This Emergency Operation will ensure that women benefit fully both from the food rations and non-food items supplied. In this regard, 51 percent of the resources will be channeled to women, and girls. In the case of the health component, 73 percent of beneficiaries are women.


3.1 The purpose of the Emergency Operation is to mitigate the effects of the damage to food production caused by the drought and ensure access of vulnerable groups to an adequate diet.

3.2 The specific objectives of WFP assistance are to:

1. Support efforts to guarantee access to an adequate diet by the most at risk vulnerable groups and prevent a deterioration in their nutritional status as a result of crop failure caused by drought.

2. Improve food availability among boarding school and semi-boarding students in the five affected provinces, and support their efforts for food production in self-consumption farms


4.1 The Emergency Operation targets assistance to vulnerable groups in the five Eastern provinces of Holguin, Las Tunas, Granma, Santiago de Cuba and Guantanamo, which have been particularly affected by the drought. Out of a population of 3,892,500 persons or 35 percent of the total population of the country, food aid beneficiaries will number 615,195 people as follows:

  • Health Sector: 90,741 persons of whom are 75,832 nursing and expecting mothers; 6,381 pregnant women particularly at risk who are being attended at Maternal homes or Obstetrics services in Hospitals; 3,845 elderly people in Senior homes; 738 disabled persons; and 3,945 infants being attended in Pediatric services in hospitals. They will receive a daily ration consisting of 100 grams of wheat flour, 25 grams of canned fish, 100 grams of rice, 50 grams of beans, and 20 grams of oil. The full ration will supply 1,150 Kcals per person. The ration provides 35 grams of protein (See Annex III). WFP will resource an amount of $25,000 to be allocated to the Health sector for the purchase of kitchen utensils, and other supplies.
  • Education sector: 524,454 total beneficiaries in primary and secondary schools for the most part: 524, 454 children at boarding schools, of whom 116,430 are full-boarders and 408,024 half-boarders. Full boarders receive three meals a day; half-boarders, one meal. The breakdown by category and ration is shown in Annex III.

5.1 The Government has appointed the Ministry of External Investment and Economic Cooperation (MINVEC) to have the overall responsibility for coordination of activities between the Ministry of Agriculture (MINAG), Ministry of Education (MINED) and the Ministry of Public Health (MINSAP) at the central level and at the provincial and local levels with the Directorates of those Ministries. MINAG, MINED and MINSAP will provide the necessary counterpart funds for its part of the reception and distribution of food and non food items provided under this Emergency Operation, as well as for its part of monitoring and technical assistance for the activities at the provincial level, at a total cost of 6,556,900 Cuban pesos. The August 1998 UN official exchange rate is US$1 to 1 Cuban Peso.

5.2 The food rations will be distributed within the Education and Health institutions. The mode of implementation will be as follows:

5.3 For the Education Sector: the Enterprise of Services for Cooperation (ESCO) of the MINVEC will arrange the customs procedures for the reception of the commodities into the country. MINED will appoint the Provincial Enterprise for Supplies to Education to take care of customs clearance of commodities and to provide the necessary control and storage required. This Enterprise will distribute the food rations on a monthly basis to the respective institutions in each Province and Municipality. Each school and institution at the local level will be responsible for the management and preparation of meals to boarders and half boarders utilizing WFP supplied commodities and other food items provided by the Government and their own self-consumption farms, when available. Each institution will also prepare the respective reports on utilization of commodities and number of beneficiaries and will forward that information to MINED.

5.4 For the Health Sector: MINSAP will coordinate with the Provincial Directorates of Public Health who will establish the control, storage and distribution mechanisms for the WFP supplied commodities. The National Unit of Specialized Production of MINSAP will be responsible for the monthly distribution of the commodities to the health establishments. These institutions, through their staff of dieticians will arrange the utilization of the commodities according to the established recommendations for the various vulnerable groups attended by the Health Ministry. The Provincial Directorates will gather information on utilization of commodities and number of beneficiaries from the health institutions at the local level and will forward reports to the Direction of Economy of MINSAP.

5.5 The commodities will be shipped to the port of Santiago de Cuba, which has all the facilities for reception and handling of the commodities, and is near the areas of operation. The five Provinces included in the EMOP have adequate transport and communication facilities and infrastructure. Costs of internal transport, handling, and storage, will be covered by WFP and the Government of Cuba. Costing is indicated in Annex I.

5.6 Food aid for this emergency will be required for a period of nine months, beginning in September 1998, until the next crop is available. Beyond this period, the need for further WFP assistance will depend on whether there is an adequate rainy season in 1999.


6.1 Rehabilitation assistance in the food production sector will be needed. Based on an assessment made by FAO, it is estimated that up to $1,800,000 will be required for the purchase of agricultural inputs, such as seeds, small irrigation equipment, windmills, water pumps pipes and accessories, fencing material, ropes, agricultural tools and sprayers. A list with the specific requirement for each Province has been prepared by FAO. Should international funding materialise, this operation will be executed by FAO which is also reviewing the possibility of allocating limited support from its Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) to address the most urgent needs, in response to a specific request from the Government.


7.1 Distribution of WFP commodities will complement foods provided by the government and will be concentrated on the vulnerable groups covered by the health and education institutions located in the five eastern provinces of the country. The main element of the strategy is to provide food rations to vulnerable groups in areas affected by drought, so that they have access to an adequate diet and avoid a further deterioration in their food security condition.

7.2 It is clear that the continued drought and excess rainfall have had a negative impact on the health and education institutions, which have experienced a reduction in the food available to them. Thus a major objective is to restore the quality and consistency of the rations available to the groups they serve. For instance in the health sector, the strategy is to provide food aid to all of the 82,213 nursing and pregnant women in the five Eastern provinces. In the education sector, the objective is to cover all of the boarding students because their daily rations in the schools have been seriously affected by the severe crop losses that hit their self-consumption farms, which previously provided almost 30 percent of their food supplies.


8.1 Monitoring of the utilization of food aid will cover all the steps from reception of the commodities at port of entry to the final destination in the health and education institutions. MINED, MINAG and MINSAP will provide MINVEC with separate periodic reports on food distribution of WFP commodities differentiating them from Government supplied items. WFP will conduct independent monitoring visits to all the institutions and areas covered by the Emergency Operation. WFP will recruit international food aid monitors for coverage in each of the five provinces and provide rapid donor reporting. Standard beneficiary contact monitoring techniques used worldwide will be applied in Cuba.

8.2 Performance indicators for the education sector are: i) number and gender of students benefited and number of rations distributed, ii) percent of the dietary recommended levels being met by beneficiaries, iii) percent of the dietary norms being met through the rations supplied by WFP, iv) percent of the dietary norms being met from the produce grown in the rural school farms.

8.3 For the health sector the performance indicators will be; i) number and gender of vulnerable groups attended (children, pregnant women, disabled persons and elderly), ii) percent of the dietary recommendation being satisfied, iii) percent of the dietary recommendation met from WFP commodities, iv) number of distributed rations.

8.4 At the end of the Emergency Operation the Government will present a final report and audited accounts including the following aspects:

  • Background on the reasons for requesting emergency food aid from WFP and whether those conditions changed or improved as a result of the EMOP.
  • Financial information on the disbursements effected for transport, handling, storage and distribution of commodities and non food items.
  • Analysis of problems and difficulties faced during distribution.
  • Assessment of the efficiency and impact of the emergency operation and the role of food aid supplied by WFP.
  • Lessons learned and links to any medium term plans for addressing drought risk in a more sustainable manner.

9.1 The Government subsidized ration is a food basket distributed to the general population monthly through special outlets. This ration provides 1,378 Kcals and 45.8 grams of protein. The assessment mission observed during the visit to the affected provinces that this food basket is not always available, with the most common missing items being meat, eggs, oil and chicken. The actual Government food basket distributed supplies only 550 Kcals and 23 grams of protein. This is a reflection of the decline in production and the lack of hard currency for food imports. This emergency operation is meant to guarantee a certain level of Kcal and proteins (see Annex III) to the most vulnerable groups in the affected provinces who have few coping mechanisms to deal with the shortfalls in the government rationing system.


Emergency food assistance for 615,195 people victims of crop failure due to drought in eastern Cuba is recommended for joint approval within the budget as outlined in the Annex.

11. APPROVAL (signature and date)

Catherine Bertini
Executive Director, WFP
Jacques Diouf
Director General, FAO