Photo: Ronald Suárez Rivas

PINAR DEL RÍO.–Cuba will not be as we currently see it on the maps in the future. Devoured by the sea, what are now peaceful coastal towns will be submerged under water, while several beaches will be “swallowed up” by the rising sea.

There will be loss of biodiversity, and species from other places will come to take refuge in some ecosystems of the archipelago.

The climate will become increasingly hot and extreme. Hurricanes will be stronger, droughts more intense. And although not visible to the naked eye, saltwater intrusion will endanger crops and the purity of groundwater.

This is not the synopsis of a disaster movie, but the scenario that scientists predict for Cuba toward the end of this century, due to climate change.

In Pinar del Río, for example, it is expected that four towns will be completely inundated, and thousands of hectares of agricultural land will be affected by soil erosion and salinization.

Faced with such gloomy prospects, which are already becoming palpable, the province is adopting measures to adapt to climate change, and mitigate as much as possible its effects, as part of the state plan known as “Tarea Vida” (Life Task).

Yury Triana, delegate of the Ministry of Science, Technology and Environment (Citma), explained that a working group was formed in the territory for the control and implementation of the plan, chaired by the Provincial Administration Council and composed of the bodies with the greatest interest in the issue, such as Agriculture, Physical Planning, Hydraulic Resources, Tourism and Hermanos Saíz Montes de Oca University, among others.

The main actions are focused on seven prioritized municipalities in the Vueltabajo region (Consolación del Sur, La Palma, Los Palacios, Minas de Matahambre, Pinar del Río, San Juan y Martínez, and Sandino), due to the possible negative effects of climate change there.

The Citma delegate pointed out that the municipality of Guane is also included, taking into account the frequent flooding of several settlements, caused by the Cuyaguateje River, and Hazard, Vulnerability and Risk (PVR) studies.

“This doesn’t mean that there will be no impact in other places, but that we will have the greatest impact in the short, medium and long terms in these, according to the research,” she added.

Although there are many people who consider climate change to be a remote problem, the effects of which many of us here today will not live to see, scientists warn that its consequences are already evident.

Since the mid-twentieth century, for example, Cuba’s average annual temperature has increased by 0.9 degrees, rainfall patterns have varied, droughts have increased, and sea level has risen 6.77 centimeters.

Sc.D Jorge Ferro, of the Center for Environmental Research and Services, ECOVIDA, noted that the effects on marine ecosystems and also mangrove coverage are already visible in Pinar del Río.

Meanwhile, research shows that marine intrusion has caused an increase in salinity levels throughout the south-western plain, and that six sandy beaches have suffered intense erosion.

In addition, experts warn about a series of anomalous events in several species of the Guanahacabibes peninsula, also linked to probable manifestations of climate change.

Lázaro Márquez, director of Guanahacabibes National Park, explained that, among other phenomena, a displacement of the flowering periods of several melliferous plant species has been documented, as well as of the breeding migration pattern of the red crab.

The scientist added that new invasive species have also appeared in the region, associated with the disorder caused by hurricanes; and that some native species, such as coastal yanilla and bay lavender, have had an expansive pattern.

He noted that as a result, honey production has declined, and the nesting process of sea turtles has been affected.

“It was dangerous, that’s why they always got us out when a hurricane was forecast,” stated Amada Bellame, one of the residents of a new village built for families that previously lived by Las Canas beach.

"The trucks came and evacuated us with everything. The houses were left empty and with the roof secured.”

This happened repeatedly, in order to protect the inhabitants of this village in southern Pinar del Río from the ravages of nature.

“Once, the sea reached the reservoir. Things got really ugly,” recalled María Elena Argüelles.

“Water entered Las Canas through three different sites,” explained Gumersindo Zambrana. “Hence, almost every year we had to leave, until that hurricane swept away all of the houses.”

Built at kilometer 21 on the road to La Coloma, to accommodate those left homeless by Hurricanes Isidore and Lili in 2002, the village of 79 homes is one of the first in the province that reflects strategic actions outlined in Tarea Vida.

On deciding its location, the experiences of the province during extreme weather events were taken into account, as well as studies that indicate that by 2050 the area of Las Canas will be totally inundated.

By then, the town of Punta de Carta (San Juan y Martínez municipality), where 56 homes have already been relocated, will also be under water.

Meanwhile, it is estimated that by 2100, the hamlets of Dayaniguas (Los Palacios) and La Bajada (Sandino) will suffer the same fate.

Hence, among the measures planned in the province is the definitive relocation of all their residents to safer sites.

The reforestation of mangroves and woodland strips for water flow regulation, the sowing of corals, the development of more drought resistant seeds, soil improvement, the introduction of more efficient irrigation systems, the updating of PVR studies, and actions to raise awareness among the population, are also among the priorities of efforts underway in Pinar del Río.

By matching the guidelines of the state plan with that of the economy, several entities are taking significant steps forward.

This is the case of the Los Palacios Agro-industrial Grains Enterprise, a series of different technologies have been introduced to level rice fields, which can significantly reduce water consumption and increase yields.

Among the experiences with the greatest impact is the Barcón agricultural production area, responsible for supplying the provincial capital, where engineering solutions and the recovery of canals has meant water can be channeled from the El Punto reservoir to the majority of the 1,500 hectares of crops.

Víctor Fidel Hernández, provincial Agriculture delegate, explained that this effort has allowed for the closure of most of Barcón’s wells, and means that in the near future, the area will not need to rely on any groundwater sources.

Following this same principle, Fidel added, the reactivation of a siphon and a system of canals, to drive the water from the reservoir, will allow for another 1,600 hectares to be dedicated to rice production, without compromising the water table.

However, this is just the beginning. To achieve its mission, the state plan will require a program of medium (through 2030) and long (through 2050) term measures, to ensure the continuity of what has been done thus far. In addition, the support of those who are still not fully aware of this complex environmental problem, or see it as something far-off in time, will be required.

The country that our children and grandchildren will inherit depends to a large extent on this essential effort of all, for the future and for life.