A local project on integrated resources management: Zaza watershed in Cuba

Watershed management evolved from a model focused on forestry and hydrology to a model focused on the local population. However still today the social impact of watershed projects is not adequately considered. New strategies of watershed management look for a much deeper involvement of local communities and a much wider intervention of local institutions and authorities. This is not always so easy because in many countries of Latin America there are no national programs on watershed management.

Cuba is one relevant exception and the government has issued a body of laws related to the management and protection of watershed resources (Art. 27 of the Constitution 1992, Plan Turquino Manatì decree n.197-1995, Forestry law n.85-1998, National Environmental Strategy 1997, Environmental law n.81-1997) and has in place institutions both at central and local level for watershed management (National Council and Provincial Commissions Watershed 1997, National Institute of Water Resources 1989, Environmental, Technology and Science Ministry 1994).

The National Council has identified 8 watersheds of national importance (Cuyaguateje, Almendares-Vento, Ariguanabo, Zaza, Hanabanilla, Cauto, Guantánamo-Guaso and Toa). These watersheds are home to 40% of the national population, host 60% of the economic activities of the country and have complex environmental problems.

The Zaza dam was built in the ‘70s. The basin has an extension of 2.413 km2 (2,2% of national area) and a water storing capacity of 1.020 million m3. 2,4% of the national population live in the basin, mostly concentrated in Sancti Spiritus city. The area represents an important agricultural resource both for national production of sugar, tobacco and local alimentary products. The agricultural sector is the main user of Zaza water.

Zaza watershed has serious problems of deterioration as a result of natural and human factors:

  • 90% of the soils are affected by erosion due to heavy seasonal rainfall, deforestation (only 5.8% covered by forest) and intensive agriculture;
  • The water resources are threatened by pollution caused by the sugar and tobacco industry and a lack of sewage systems;
  • There are problems with the access to water by urban and rural people for personal and agricultural use due to a lack of aqueducts and water delivery systems.

Many local organizations and national institutions work on the Zaza watershed with the aim to solve specific environmental and social problems. One of the important actions for reducing soil erosion is the finca hidrorreguladora where the campesinos live and are paid by the government for planting and taking care of the trees in some specific areas of the basin. Unfortunately these programs are not well linked and there is no coordination among the different institutions. As a result there is a risk of overlapping or lack of activities. There is also no real integration among activities related to different sectors.

The Zaza watershed is the object of research, studies and territorial planning developed and supported by the local university of Sancti Spiritus in collaboration with Milano-Bicocca university. This experience, still in progress, is very interesting because it could provide ideas and guidelines for developing a local model by local stakeholders. In addition the collaboration between the two universities and their different faculties could create a new possibility for developing a local project on watershed management based on integrated and multi-sectoral approaches.

The university could play a mayor role in building a framework for activities and responsibilities of the institutions involved. The university could also develop and implement specific research activities focused on social problems and on methods for involving communities that do not get adequate attention by other institutions. The university could act as a focal point for knowledge sharing between the different institutions and the local people.

Adapted from S.Berini. 2008. "Un projecto local de manejo integrado. La cuenca del Zaza en Cuba". Milan, Italy, University Milano-Bicocca.

Download the full text document 
last updated:  Wednesday, November 12, 2008