Environment, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean


Patricia Grogg

HAVANA, Sep 20 2000 (IPS) - The Cuban government has set out to save Havana Bay, one of the world’s 10 most polluted, through a clean- up plan aimed at resolving one of the capital’s most pressing problems.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Germany, Italy and Japan are among the donors contributing to the project, said Armando Choy Rodríguez, the chairman of the commission in charge of cleaning up the bay.

The initial phase of the plan, which is to run through 2004 at a cost of five million dollars, will entail the removal of solid waste and traces of hydrocarbons, as well as a gradual reduction of the organic urban and industrial waste contaminating the bay.

The clean-up will increase oxygen levels in the waters of the bay, diminish the stench, improve the landscape, and eliminate sedimentation through a programme of reforestation and integral management of the bay and the three rivers that run into it.

The second phase of the project, from 2004 to 2009, will include the restoration of the bed of the bay through suction and dredging, Rodríguez told the daily ‘Granma’, the official publication of the ruling Communist Party.

More than 100 industries and service establishments reportedly dump waste and sediment into the Havana Bay. However, the pollution level has reportedly dropped, thanks to closures or transfers of several companies.

New industrial waste treatment systems and stepped-up enforcement of rules against waste dumping by boats anchored in the bay have also begun to give fruit, say local experts on the environment.

Official figures from late 1999 indicate that the 5.2-square km bay contains some 20,000 cubic metres of waste.

The worst sources of pollution of the waters in the bay are the Ñico López refinery, sewage, cargo boats and cruise-liners docked in the port, and the untreated waters of three rivers that flow into the bay.

Late last year, environmental authorities announced the construction of a water treatment plant for the Luyanó river, the worst polluter of the three.

But experts say ships are an even bigger worry, because the waters near the port are polluted by at least one oil spill a year. Last year, for example, 120 tonnes of oil were spilled, although a clean-up team was able to remove most of it.

The fast growth of Cuba’s tourism industry has provided another source of concern, due to the increased number of passenger vessels docking in the bay, and dumping their waste.

Cuba is looking into signing international agreements aimed at preventing contamination by waste dumped by watercraft.

The first project to clean-up Havana’s natural bay dates back to 1886, while the first environmental study was carried out in 1939.

A parallel clean-up is taking place in the bay of Santiago, Cuba’s second-most important port, located 967 kms east of the capital. Three rivers flow into that 11.9-square km bay, as well as the sewage from most of the city.

Local authorities in Santiago point out that one of the biggest polluters of the bay is the Hermanos Díaz refinery, although funds have been earmarked this year for upgrading the plant’s waste treatment system.

The Santiago bay programme will involve measures to be taken by cement, grain-processing and cooking oil factories, as well as the reforestation of seven hectares along the coast.

Minister of Science, Technology and the Environment, Rosa Elena Simeón, said early this month that so far this year, pollution levels had been reduced by around seven percent nationwide.

Simeón reported that the general strategy for reverting the problem of pollution included the adoption — by “the highest- level” government officials — of a special plan targetting the country’s 100 biggest industrial polluters.

Cuba’s laws stipulate that an environmental licence must be granted before any new works are undertaken by either local or foreign investors.

Cuba was selected by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as the next host of the World Environment Day celebrations, on Jun 5.

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