Cuba has become expert in protecting its citizens against the impact of tropical storms. The secret to their success: education and a system that relies on clear communication between the Met Office, Civil Defence and the media. Despite being one of the poorest countries in the Caribbean, the people of Cuba are among the best prepared against Hurricanes. Every year the whole country takes part in a two-day training session in risk reduction for hurricanes, complete with full simulation exercises and dramatic rescue operations, which allow the evacuation of people in a record time.
Several years ago, I attended a seminar in Washington, DC, about Cuba’s disaster preparedness capabilities. It is amazing how much a small country with little resources can do to protect its citizens. At this seminar, a presenter told a very interesting story about Cuban authorities and their determination to save lives. The presenter was told the following story by a Cuban rescue volunteer.
A hurricane was barrelling down on a small town on Cuba’s southeast coast. The neighborhood civil defense volunteers had gone to every house to warn all residents that it was time to move to a shelter. After several hours, the volunteers returned and there was one old farmer who said he would not leave. By, this time, water had started to roll in over his farm. The volunteers contacted the rescue team to notify them of his refusal to leave. Because of the high water accumulation, the rescue team had to take a boat to pick the old man up. When they arrived, he said he would not leave without his pigs! The rescue team said “bring them” and loaded the boat up with the old man and his four pigs. The seminar presenter asked the rescue volunteer how he knew to bring such a large boat that would accommodate the man and the pigs. “Because, we know that the old man loves his pigs better than life itself and that if we did not take his pigs along, he would die there with them.”
And that is the real reason why Cubans are so prepared for hurricanes — they know their neighbors.
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