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Cuba: Urban and Industrial Pollution
Country Study > Chapter 2 > The Society and Its Environment > Environmental Trends > Urban and Industrial Pollution


Sugar mills are highly polluting because they release liquid waste products-such as molasses, filter mud, and bagasse composts, that is, composted stalks and leaves of sugarcane-into streams and rivers and can severely damage coastal ecosystems. During the 1970s and 1980s, with Cuba's emphasis on increasing sugar production, the volume of these discharges rose. As a result, there have been reports of collapsed fisheries, destroyed clam beds, and contaminated shrimp farms. Some corrective measures, such as monitoring discharge rates, have been discussed, but with unknown results.

Other major sources of air pollution are fuel-inefficient industrial plants, in particular cement plants, and transportation equipment acquired from the former socialist bloc. Of six cement plants operating in Cuba in the late 1980s, the two that relied on the least environmentally friendly dry manufacturing process-at Mariel and Artemisa-were heavy air and water polluters. Other heavy polluters are the country's two largest fertilizer production plants, located in Cienfuegos and Nuevitas, and several chemical and metalworking plants in Havana and other large cities. In addition, Cuba's old Soviet-designed vehicles lack pollution-control devices, and thus release significant amounts of air contaminants.

Inadequate and poorly maintained sewerage systems are also a problem and are responsible for the extensive pollution of many streams and harbors. Havana Bay, for example, is notorious for its contamination: the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP-see Glossary) designated Havana Bay as one of the ten most polluted harbors in the world. Pollutants tend to accumulate in Havana Bay because of its shape, which prevents water from circulating rapidly in and out of the bay. The lack of circulation is a serious problem because 300 tons of organic matter and forty tons of oil and oil products flow each day into the bay, which is relatively shallow and only 3.7 kilometers in length by 4.6 kilometers in width.

Last Updated: April 2001

Editor's Note: Country Studies included here were published between 1988 and 1998. The Country study for Cuba was first published in 2001. Where available, the data has been updated through 2008. The date at the bottom of each section will indicate the time period of the data. Information on some countries may no longer be up to date. See the "Research Completed" date at the beginning of each study on the Title Page or the "Data as of" date at the end of each section of text. This information is included due to its comprehensiveness and for historical purposes.

Note that current information from the CIA World Factbook, U.S. Department of State Background Notes, Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Country Briefs, the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Country Profiles, and the World Bank can be found on

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