Recurring hurricanes: the Cuban experience

George, Lilly, Mitch, Lilli, Michelle, Ivan, Charly...

After Hurricane Michelle passed through the Caribbean and Central America in November of last year, an article in the Guardian drew attention to the great differences in damage between Cuba and its neighbors, not only in this hurricane but others throughout the past decades:  "Whatever the reasons, Cuba has lessons for the rest of us." 

Dr. Gilberto Quevedo, director of the research center CIDEM at Santa Clara said there exists a policy of organized prevention from the national level through to the neighborhoods. It is composed of community organizations, as well as professional sectors and is centered in a Civil Defense program, which prepares plans throughout the year that are activated when there is danger of cyclones. Analysis of causes also is important in order to take the necessary infrastructure steps. Early analysis of the causes of floods resulted in a program of dam construction. New highways and roads are analyzed to ensure that the inclinations were made stable to cope with the heavy rains connected with hurricanes. Sewer systems and bridges were built to permit water to circulate without producing great inundations. Another focus was to improve housing. Urban development plans seek to diminish risks by not using zones that are easily inundated and avoiding areas that could have landslides.

"To withstand Michelle was a real life test. The MCR tiles and the blocks fabricated with EcoMaterials gained credibility," according to the director of the national housing institute.

People in the town of Isabela remember when Hurricane Michelle whipped through with winds up to 280km/hour, and destroyed many buildings. However, 21 families already had Micro Concrete Roofing through and one inhabitant said that in the past each time a hurricane passed she lost her roof. Now, with her new roof, no tiles broke or moved during Hurricane Michelle and she feels secure.

In Cuba the limits to construction are not primarily the finances, but the availability of materials on the free market. For over two years in two provinces, the production of alternative cement and its use as a partial substitute for Portland cement allowed near duplication of production of hollow concrete blocks. Micro Concrete Roofing tiles ( MCR) combined with innovative support structures became the most used light weight roofing material over the past decade. Use of local raw materials and waste products from the sugar industry are the basis of this development, which was nominated as best practice in the Dubai Habitat Award 2004. 

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Pedro Seijo
Professor of Civil Engineering
Spanish, English
Teaching, ecomaterials workshop management, research (municipal waste)


In 2005, SofoNic has started a dual education program for masons in Nicaragua, using its house-building programs as a base. Teaming up with the local technical school in Jinotepe they are graduating about ten masons every year since. Most f them have found jobs in construction or have started a business on their own. SofoNic has contracted several of them as master masons in the reconstruction programs in Haiti.