Manzanillo rising: A Cuban city thriving in face of climate change

In the picturesque Cuban city of Manzanillo, where urban planning and nature intertwines, a model for resilience is emerging. From mangrove restoration to electric tricycles, discover how the city is confronting each climate challenge head on. By Climate Champions | October 23, 2023

Manzanillo rising: A Cuban city thriving in face of climate change 

In the picturesque Cuban city of Manzanillo, where urban planning and nature intertwines, a model for resilience is emerging. From mangrove restoration to electric tricycles, discover how the city is confronting each climate challenge head on.


Challenge: Rising temperatures: The city has witnessed an increase in its annual temperature average by 0.9 degrees Celsius since the mid-20th century. This warming trend poses threats to local ecosystems, agriculture, and the overall wellbeing and health of its residents.

Solution: Urban green infrastructure plan: Manzanillo is actively working on the project Nature4Cities to develop a nature-based urban adaptation plan that proposes the inclusion of green urban areas for heat islands. Likewise, the city is implementing the “Mi Costa” project, which focuses on geo-referencing key water retention zones and aquifers. By preserving these essential water sources from urban development and pollution, the city aims to create cooler microclimates, reducing the urban heat island effect. Green spaces, moreover, not only provide shade but also help in absorbing sunlight, thereby reducing reflected heat. Over time, this initiative is expected to play a pivotal role in moderating the city’s temperature.


Challenge: Extreme climate events: Manzanillo is experiencing more frequent and severe climate events, which disrupt daily life and strain the city’s resources.

Solution: Coastal area management:  Recognizing the threats posed by extreme climate events, Manzanillo has rolled out a comprehensive plan for the sustainable management, protection, and restoration of coastal areas. The city is investing in restoring mangrove vegetation formations and planning new Nature-based Solutions through Nature4Cities, which are known to act as natural buffers against storm surges. Additionally, the reopening of canals for the desalination of interior mangrove lagoons is underway, which will further enhance the city’s resilience against extreme tidal events.


Challenge: Changing rainfall patterns: The rainfall regime in Manzanillo has undergone significant changes, leading to prolonged droughts that impact water availability and agriculture.

Solution: Water security initiatives: To combat the challenges posed by changing rainfall patterns, Manzanillo has implemented a robust system for monitoring well fields that supply drinking water. This decentralized system is divided by sectors associated with the closest wells. Large entities with significant water consumption have their independent water supply systems, which can be integrated with the public system during emergencies, ensuring a consistent water supply even during droughts.


Challenge: Sea-level rise: The sea level has risen by 6.77 centimeters to date. Projections indicate that by 2050, the rise could reach up to 27 centimeters and by 2100, a staggering 85 centimeters. This rise threatens to submerge parts of the city and salinize freshwater sources.

SolutionUrban land use planning: Manzanillo’s urban planning strategies now prioritize the strategic allocation and use of land with a keen focus on areas vulnerable to sea-level rise. There was a Climate Risks and Vulnerability assessment developed within Nature4Cities activities. By ensuring that soil characteristics and elevation levels are pivotal in land use decisions, the city aims to mitigate the impacts of rising sea levels, ensuring that critical infrastructures are located in safer zones.

Challenge: Salinization of aquifers: The advancing “salt wedge” due to sea-level rise poses a risk of salinizing subway aquifers open to the sea, jeopardizing the city’s freshwater supply.

Solution: Water resource conservation: The Water Resources Delegation of Manzanillo has proactively identified areas at risk of salinization. They are working on introducing desalination plants to supply drinking water to communities at risk. Additionally, rainwater collection systems and photovoltaic pumping systems are being proposed, ensuring that freshwater sources remain uncontaminated and sustainable.


Challenge: Cyclonic activity: The city has observed great variability in cyclonic activity, which poses threats to infrastructure, livelihoods, and the safety of its residents.

Solution: Digitalization and public awareness: To keep the public informed and prepared, Manzanillo is leveraging digital platforms. The Joven Club is in the process of developing an app that provides real-time updates on cyclonic activities, potential risks, and recommended adaptation measures. This ensures that residents can take timely actions to safeguard themselves and their properties.


Challenge: Loss of land: The projected sea-level rise will lead to the gradual loss of the city’s emerged surface, displacing communities and affecting local ecosystems.

Solution: Soil conservation: Manzanillo has established experimental zones, like the soil polygon in the coastal area, to test and implement soil conservation techniques. By promoting contour planting, erosion containment barriers, and organic fertilization, the city aims to strengthen its coastal areas, making them more resilient to erosion and land loss.


Challenge: Economic impacts: The combined effects of these challenges have economic implications, affecting sectors like agriculture, fisheries, and tourism.

Solution: Energy resilience: To reduce dependency on external energy sources and boost the local economy, Manzanillo is promoting the use of electric tricycles in public transportation. The city is also focusing on decentralized renewable energy sources, with plans for a photovoltaic farm that will not only provide sustainable energy but also create local job opportunities.


Challenge: Socio-economic challenges: Climate challenges intersect with existing socio-economic issues, exacerbating vulnerabilities among the city’s residents.

Solution: Digital inclusion: To bridge the digital divide and ensure that all residents, especially the vulnerable populations, have access to critical information and services, Manzanillo is expanding its digital infrastructure. With over 70% of the city already having access to digital platforms, further expansions are planned to cover the entire city.


Challenge: Threat to biodiversity: The changing climate poses a threat to local flora and fauna, potentially leading to loss of biodiversity.

Solution: Urban upgrading and resettlement: Manzanillo’s government is actively engaging with communities to address vulnerabilities. Through extension projects and educational talks, the city is raising awareness about environmental issues, the importance of preserving local biodiversity, and the steps residents can take to contribute.


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