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Tim Cole

Former British Ambassador to Cuba

Part of UK in Cuba

28th January 2016 Havana, Cuba

Flooding in Havana – a sign of things to come?

P1050535Havana is a beautiful, evocative, charming, intriguing city. Yes, many buildings are in desperate need of repair and the holes in the roads need filling in but the city has a faded, pastel-coloured splendour that provides a stunning backdrop to many a photo snapped by a tourist or a Saturday night party on the Malecón. But last weekend’s floods and the ones the weekend before and those the week before that should concern everyone who, like me, loves this place. Not because the floods meant the photo couldn’t be taken or the party couldn’t start but because of what they might presage for Havana’s future.

P1050525The floods are caused by either torrential rain or the sea washing over the sea wall. Both cause damage although I suspect the salt in the seawater is more corrosive. There’s an immediate impact – on transport, the economy, people’s lives, kids’ education – and a longer-term hit on the buildings. Friends here tell me they are most worried when the sun comes out as the drying process can damage poorly-built or poorly-maintained houses. Some collapse.

All of that is already a concern. But it seems to me we’re only likely to see more of this. With sea levels rising worldwide, the sea will inevitably breach the Malecón more and more often. And a changing climate is predicted to lead to more extreme weather events. That means more days when El Vedado, Miramar, Centro Habana, Jaimanitas and other areas at risk are under water. More days when there’s no bus and you can’t get to work or get home or get to school. More damage to Havana’s houses, roads and infrastructure. More damage to this beautiful city.

P1050508What can be done? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer. I wish I did. I know others such as the Grupo de Desarrollo Integral de la Capital and the Oficina del Historiador have been looking at this. Perhaps they have worked it out.

Under the World Heritage Convention, we all have a duty to preserve the world’s heritage sites which include Old Havana. UNESCO has a role to play in supporting the Cuban authorities to find a solution.

P1050495What we need to do is define the problem, work out some answers and find the resources to fund the work. There’ll be some great ideas out there: new sea walls to break up the waves before they reach the Malecón, sophisticated drainage systems so the sea and rain drain away more quickly, even salt-resistant buildings perhaps. Some of them may not work; some of them will. New technology will have new answers. Old technology might too. But it will all be expensive. So all you scientists, architects, physicists, historians, environmentalists, residents, businessmen, investors, schoolchildren, tourists, Malecón party-goers, diplomats, all of you who care about Havana, we all need to get together and tackle this. Ideally tomorrow. Before it’s too late.

3 comments on “Flooding in Havana – a sign of things to come?

  1. If you doubt what’s happening in Cuba and what the future holds for Cuba, Florida and other “coastal” (aka. near sea level land areas), look at what’s happening in Bermuda…

  2. Tim,

    Please read: “onlinelibrary.wiley.com: From the extreme to the mean: Acceleration and tipping points of coastal inundation from sea level rise – Sweet – 2014 – Earth’s Future – Wiley Online Library”

    By 2030: ~13 years “tipping point” for routine flooding of >30 days/year in most coastal areas; By 2100 “dry days” in coastal areas will be unusual as land will actually SINK below flood stage.

    Advice: Move to higher ground and begin redrawing maps.

  3. Hi Tim, seing those fotos, I think I’d better phone home (am in Europe) and see how my street is faring!

Comments are closed.

About Tim Cole

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat…

Hi! I’m Tim Cole, the British Ambassador to Cuba. I arrived in Havana in August 2012 and presented my credentials as British Ambassador the following month. I’ve been a diplomat since 2001; before Cuba, I spent 5 years in London where I worked on Pan-African policy and global economic issues and 6 years in southern Africa as Deputy Head of Mission in Mozambique and Zimbabwe. Most of my career has been in Africa as before joining the FCO I ran humanitarian aid programmes in Central Africa for the British NGOs Christian Aid and Save the Children. I’m married to Clare and we have 2 children – Jonathan and Zea.

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