Cuban students win DRR design award

United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction – Regional Office for the Americas and the Caribbean
The award-winning ‘Rescate de Cayo Granma’ project
The award-winning ‘Rescate de Cayo Granma’ project

SANTIAGO DE CUBA, Cuba, 21 August 2015 – A group of Cuban students has won an international prize awarded to budding architects who deploy their talents to reduce the risk of disasters.

The four-member team from the Central University Marta Abreu de las Villas won their award at the 7th i-Rec student competition in London, where the jury lauded their plans for Cayo Granma, a hurricane-struck island community near the city of Santiago de Cuba.

“This was the most complete project,” said jury member Dr. Camilo Boano, an architect and urbanist who is Senior Lecturer at The Bartlett Development Planning Unit, University College of London.

The southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba, the hub of the country’s second-largest province, was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in October 2012.

Sandy, which also battered other Caribbean island nations and the United States, killed 11 people in Cuba and affected three million people, or 27 percent of the population.

It displaced more than 340,000 of the country’s 11 million inhabitants – according to the ‘Global Estimate 2015’ report, Cuba and Haiti are the two nations with the highest index of displacement in the past seven years.

Sandy also caused considerable damage.

Total losses were estimated at US$2 billion, making Sandy one of the costliest hurricanes in Cuban history. Overall, in the Caribbean and North America, the damage was estimated at US$72 billion.

The losses in Cuba were mainly due to the hurricane’s impact on homes – almost 22,400 households lost everything, while 135,300 were destroyed partially and close to 63,200 suffered ceiling damage. Cayo Granma, an island community near Santiago de Cuba, was particularly hard hit, with just four of its 200 homes left standing in Sandy’s wake.

The four architecture students, Ana Lourdes Barrera Cano, Royer Leno Medina, Elisa Medina Toboso and Niuris Martín Rosabal, decided to draw up a reconstruction plan, working with the community.

“We conducted a study, observed the results, and thus based our work on our social, economical and political analysis,” explained Ms. Medina Toboso.

The plan, supervised by Professor Andrés Olivera Ranero, harnessed the lessons of spontaneous reconstruction of cooperative housing after hurricanes.

It took into account a string of factors such as the serious damage and the limited means of transportation – Santiago de Cuba is only accessible by a boat – as well as high rates of alcoholism, low education levels and unemployment.

To ensure a sustainable recovery, a four-step strategy was designed to ensure safe housing for families, promote smallholding, revive the sawmill which is the heart of the economy because it feeds the boat-building sector, and enhance the urban development.

The award jury hailed the extent of the socio-spatial analysis, as well as the sound and complete description of the organizational and institutional structure within an urban design plan.

Ensuring the resilience of the built environment is a key area of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, a 15-year global plan adopted in March to achieve substantial falls in deaths and economic losses caused by natural and man-made hazards.

Cuba is already a recognized leader in the disaster risk reduction field, and provincial capital Santiago is a national benchmark, being the only Cuban municipality to have so far joined UNISDR’s Making Cities Resilient campaign, which has almost 2,700 members.

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