Cuba in terms of social development

Fidel Castro took charge of Cuba in 1959. At the start of the revolution, 1/4 of the population were illiterate and living in poverty. 1/2 died before the age of 60, and only 1/2 of all children went to school.

The main causes of Castro’s “special period” were the break down of the Soviet Bloc, a reliance on soviet nations to supply almost everything to the country, a trade embargo and a massive nationwide food shortage. The food problem was solved by the increased use of sustainable organic farming, with 10,000 urban gardens to grow food within cities. To this day, one of the main study areas emphasised in higher education in Cuba is agriculture, with the other two being Medicine and Sciences.

The rivers within Cuba became very polluted due to their starting development. There was a huge demand for clean water from the gardens, yet not enough money to build water treatment plants, despite the prevalence of old factories along the river polluting freely, leading to a high concentration of contaminants. Furthermore, there was no real sewage treatment system. A scheme was devised to mostly use a natural wetland replacement to remove most of the waste products. Plants are by no means a perfect filter for pollution, but they do help significantly, supposedly leading to a 85% removal of pollution from the water sources.

Cuba has had some major benefits for its development; their water cleaning scheme has helped to prevent waterborne disease, and they can now buy solar panels for use in schools. All children can now go to school, where they are guaranteed an education anywhere. This has lead to some very small schools across the country.

Cuba has a strong focus on Preventative Medicine. There is 1 doctor for every 170 people in Cuba. Each doctor spends 4 hours a day within their clinics and 4.5 hours on house visits, which is referred to as “integrated general practice medicine”. It is easier for a doctor to observe the patient’s symptoms in a home setting, and also helps to relax the patient. This system is entirely free.

As a result of this, Cuba has the lowest infant mortality rate of any developing country, which is lower than some areas of North America. Their health care system is so renowned in the Americas, that many US doctors receive training there, as well as doctors from other countries; this comes with the caveat that they are not able to afford their education within their home country, or that their home country has no proper medical schools. For instance, Belize has no medical schools, and all their doctors are trained within Cuba as a result. During aid drives, Cuba rarely sends any money, but instead sends huge medical teams out to disaster events.

Traditional medicine is actually encouraged in Cuba, largely because of a lack of money. Patients can normally choose what type of treatment to prioritise in their own health care. It’s thought that the traditional medicine is good for treating the whole of a person, and the locals claim it gives different results to just western medicine. It’s unclear exactly how effective any of these treatments are, but many modern medicines are loosely based off of traditional remedies, so it’s entirely possible that a good proportion (it won’t be all) are quite effective.

Cuba has spent a lot of funding on biotechnology, which has helped to ensure there are a variety of cheap and effective drugs available for Cubans. This has helped to keep the health care free for all citizens, with a lowered government cost. 1500 citizens are employed in biotechnology, and have developed several drugs and vaccines, and has eradicated some tropical diseases from within Cuba.

Tourism has created an issue for Cuba in recent years as the government is used to controlling the supply of goods and currency. Tourists demand to have control of funding properly, which meant that a second currency had to be made; the Convertible Pesal is worth 25x as much as the Cuban Pesal. Tourism has also lead to inequality; tourist guides can earn as much in an afternoon as doctors will in a month (roughly equivalent to US$25 a month).

Cuba is in a fragile position at the moment. Castro’s reign was autocratic, so few politicians were trained to manage the country. A few trusted advisers seem to have taken charge for now, but it is hard to discern how the country will function in the long term.

PRC General Pollution Issues

A real time global air quality index visual map can be found here.

Soil contamination

The growth of the PRC since the 1980s has lead to major soil pollution. The State Environmental Protection Administration believes it to be a threat to environmental quality, food safety and sustainable agriculture. 100,000km^2 of the PRC’s cultivated land has been polluted, with contaminated water irrigating a further 21,670^2 and 1,300km^2 have been destroyed or covered in solid waste. This accounts for 1/10 of the PRC’s cultivatable land. 6 million tonnes of grain are contaminated annually, costing about 29 billion yuan to the Chinese economy, roughly US$2.57 billion.


The PRC’s general lack of real environmental awareness (which proves the level of thought into one president elect’s allegations of the PRC “inventing global warming”) has lead to a lack of decent recycling systems. In 2012, the PRC generated 300 million tonnes of waste material.

Industrial pollution

In 1997, the World Bank issued a report targetting the PRC stating that “hundreds of thousands of premature deaths and incidents of serious respiratory illness have been caused by exposure to industrial air pollution. Seriously contaminated by industrial discharges, many of China’s waterways are largely unfit for direct human use.”

The New York times stated in a 2007 article that “Environmental degradation is now so severe, with such stark domestic and international repercussions, that pollution poses not only a major long-term burden on the Chinese public but also an acute political challenge to the ruling Communist Party.”

  • Air pollution has made cancer the PRC’s leading cause of death
  • Ambient pollution kills hundred of thousands of citizens annually.
  • 500 million Chinese citizens have no safe, clean drinking water.
  • only 1% of the 560 million city dwellers breath air considered safe within the European Union
  • Lead poisoning from pollution kills many Chinese children
  • Large sections of the ocean have no marine life because of massive algal blooms- eutrophication
  • Pollution from China has spread internationally, causing acid rain fall in Seoul and Tokyo, and even in Los Angeles.
  • The Chinese Academy of Environmental Planning estimated in 2003 that 300,000 people die each year from ambient air pollution.
  • Environmental experts estimated in 2005 that by 2010 380,000 people would die of air pollution in the PRC annually, and that in 2020 550,000 would.
  • “outdoor air pollution was already causing 350,000 to 400,000 premature deaths a year. Indoor pollution contributed to the deaths of an additional 300,000 people, while 60,000 died from diarrhoea, bladder and stomach cancer and other diseases that can be caused by water-borne pollution.”, “China’s environmental agency insisted that the health statistics be removed from the published version of the report, citing the possible impact on ‘social stability'”- World Bank, 2007
  • Up to 760,000 people died prematurely in the PRC in 2007 due to air and water pollution. Around 360,000 to 400,000 people died of air pollution within PRC cities. 300,000 died because of poor indoor air quality, and 60,000 from poor water quality.

Electric Waste

Electronic Waste means discarded electronic devices which have not been recycled or re-purposed.

In 2011, the PRC produced 2.3 million tons of electronic waste. Additionally, a lot of electronic waste is imported from abroad.

Water supply

Due to general water shortages and high water pollution, there are often issues in the PRC in acquiring healthy drinking water. A quickly growing population, as well as often lax environmental laws regarding buildings have only increased demand for clean water.

Air Pollution

Coal combustion produces Particulate Matter known as PM. Beijing suffers from PM2.5- Particulate Matter less than 2.5 micrometers across. Such fine matter can easily lead to breathing problems such as bronchitis and asthma, and even lung cancer at extremely low ages (the typical age to contract cancer is above about 75 through most of the world, with this being raised to 80 with a healthy lifestyle, but in the PRC cases have been recorded of even 8 year olds having lung cancer).

Lung cancer is about 3x as common in Chinese cities as opposed to the countryside, despite similar exposure to other carcinogens such as tobacco smoke.

Despite now having means to measure much of the air pollution, measurements in 2013 showed that the  pollution was beyond the scope of what could be measured in the present particulate sizes.

Impacts of Pollution Generally

  • In 2005, pollution cost 3.05% of the PRC economy
  • Depending on the economic model (Eastern or Western), in 2003, according to the World Bank, 2.68% or 5.78% of GDP was spent on water or air pollution
  • A review of this in 2009 said that this might be as high as 10%
  • A 2012 study said that pollution had little effect on the actual growth of the PRC economy; even if they were going to continue using polluting industries and inefficient energy sources. Eventually, the effects of pollution would start to off set the gains from them into the economy.
  • In 2015, Berkeley Earth estimated that 1.6 million people die annually in the PRC from strokes or heart or lung issues caused by pollution.


The PRC is one of very few countries actively increasing its forest coverage, which is working to reduce its environmental pollution. Due to Mao’s policies, much of the forest of the PRC was removed in the past, leading to dust storms frequently entering the city in line with the air currents from elsewhere. This started to cause pollution across urban areas. Replenishing forest areas should help to reduce this impact, although it will probably take many years to resolve the situation caused by deforestation entirely.

Additionally, the air pollution and water pollution within the PRC are also decreasing, according to government account. Although the PRC is clearly very polluted, the government claims that they are trying to reduce the situation, and there is reasonable evidence that they are taking some good measures on this line, but not very far into actively reducing air pollution, where it is really most needed.


On 1st June 2008, the PRC banned all shops from distributing free plastic bags to customers. Stores have to clearly mark the price of plastic shopping bags and are banned from adding that price onto products.  The production of ultra-thin plastic bags, less than 0.025 mm across are also banned. However, the ban does not effect  take-away food businesses or paper bags. The year after the ban was introduced, the International Food Packaging Association found that 10% fewer plastic bags had entered the rubbish system.

Legislation has been introduced preventing the introduction of electronic waste, but it has been criticised as vulnerable to fraud.

Air Pollution:

The PRC government recently started to include ozone and PM2.5 in their air quality indexes, which are the two most harmful forms of air pollution in the country. Official data shows air pollution decreasing, but with the PRC’s record of requests to not publish figures on their pollution rates, it is reasonable to assume that the published data was heavily manipulated.

After record high pollution levels in 2012, the government made an action plan to reduce pollution levels in September 2013. The plan was to reduce air pollution 10% between 2012 and 2017, which from the frequency of the alerts delivered in the last few years, has not been successful. The plan was published on the government website.

On 20th August 2015, to create a “Parade Blue sky” for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII, the government shut down industries for a day in Beijing, and heavily regulated car exhaust fumes. PM2.5 concentration was briefly 35mg/m^3 lower than the national average in the city, down to 19.5mg/m^3, the lowest in the city’s recorded history.

The government is aiming to reduce its fossil fuel usage by increasing the PRC’s capacity for renewable energy sources, or other less polluting energy sources, such as nuclear power, hydroelectric power and compressed natural gas.

The PRC government set up a system of air quality alerts. These alerts are based on air quality indexes. The alerts are given through the large cities of the PRC.

  • A Blue warning indicates pollution levels of AQI 201-300 (Heavy Pollution) within the next 24 hours
  • A yellow warning indicates an AQI of 201-300 for three days or AQI between 301-500 (Hazardous) within the next 24 hours.
  • An orange warning indicates that pollution levels will be above 201 for the next three days, going between “Heavy Pollution” and “Hazardous”
  • A red warning indicates an AQI above 201 for four consecutive days, or above AQI of 301 for two days, or an average of over 500 over the course of one day.

Costa Del Sol- part I

Tourism is a major economic asset in Mediterranean countries, with a strong emphasis on the coast, putting pressure on coastal areas. Despite environmental protection, 200 km of coastline is being developed each year and by 2025, it’s predicted that half of the coastline will be built upon, with some conurbations lasting for hundreds of km.

Pressures on the Costa Del Sol

  • Growing population of coastal areas
  • Development of airports, holiday resorts and general urban sprawl leading to damage to disappearance of fragile wetland ecosystems
  • Poor management of coastal areas leading to change in sediment flows
  • Removal of marine sediment for construction sites has damaged the sea bed
  • Oil and gas infrastructure development has seen a rise in the numbers of oil tankers- about 30% of all oil transits go through the Mediterranean
  • Use of chemicals in agriculture has increased river and sea pollution.
  • Rising rates of eutrophication
  • Industrial developments have increased chemical discharge
  • Uncontrolled waste management
  • Untreated water waste being discharged to the sea
  • 650 tons of sewage, 129,000 tons of mineral oil, 60,000 tons of mercury, 3,800 tons of lead and 36,000 tons of phosphates are dumped in the Mediterranean annually

Shipping- it is estimated 220,000 merchant ships transporting 100 tons of material cross the Mediterranean annually.

Fish stocks- 65% of stock within the region are outside safe biological limits, and many important stocks are threatened

Industry- fish farming in the Mediterranean accounts for 30% of global fish consumption. The industry claims this reduces pressure on wild stocks, but farmed species are often carnivorous so need 5x their weight in wild fish to support them


In 1975, the Mediterranean Action Plan (MAP) was set up as part of the United Nations’ Environmental Programme (UNEP). MAP’s goal was to protect marine environments along the Mediteranean. In 1995, this was widened to include the whole coastal region.

A strategy was drawn up by 300 scientific experts in a report presented in 2006 which gave the following recommendations:

  • 10% of all marine and coastal habitats should be protected, adding to 80 currently protected wetland areas
  • Green areas between urban areas are to be encouraged to reduce linear development
  • Reduction of linear road building
  • Inland tourism should be encouraged to reduce pressure on the coast
  • Future tourist development should show awareness for the environment in planning and show economic responsibility for the environment when completed
  • Stricter rules to combat pollution from boats
  • Improved energy management in order to reduce the need for coastal power stations
  • All waste water should be fully treated before being discharged into the sea.

Aguas Calientes

Machu Pichu, in Peru, is visited by almost 500,000 people annually. Thousands of people will clamber over ruins, which means guards have to run after and try to control the tourists so they do not damage the site.

However, the real issues with tourism are on the pathways and the nearby tourist town of Aguas Calientes.

In the town below, in the valley, building has been unrestricted in a confined area, leading to hotels replacing forests along the mountain side. This in turn has caused landslides

Many visitors will take waste with them when they head up the pathway to Machu Picchu but will fail to bring it back, littering on the walkway. Although littering is prevalent everywhere, Machu Picchu is a very important site culturally, so this is very disrespectful to the area and its people. The litter can be seen blowing around the surrounding mountains. Meanwhile, sewage and waste are dumped into the Urabamba river nearby, which is a major source of water downstream.