Cuba

From “Country Profile: Cuba, September 2006”,
Library of Congress – Federal Research Division.

Topography

Cuba is a long but relatively narrow island. About two-thirds of its land surface is covered with fertile plains suitable for cultivation; three principal, heavily forested mountain ranges cover the rest of the country.

The Sierra de los Organos, which rises to a maximum elevation of about 686 meters, lies to the west of Havana.

Toward the center of the island is the Sierra de Trinidad, which reaches a maximum elevation of 1,006 meters and together with the Sierra de Sancti Spiritus constitutes the Sierra de Escambray.

Still farther east lies the island's highest and most rugged mountain range, the Sierra Maestra, which encircles the city of Santiago de Cuba and includes Cuba's highest peak, the Pico Real del Turquino (1,974 meters).

Large tracts of mangrove swamp are particularly prevalent in the south and southwest, whereas the northern coastline is steep and rocky.

Principal Rivers

Cuba has 30 south-flowing and 11 north-flowing rivers with a total length of 3,932 kilometers. The average length of Cuba's major rivers, none of which are navigable to any significant extent, is 93 kilometers.

The island's longest river is the 370-kilometer Cauto, which flows from the eastern mountains to the southern coast and is navigable for about 80 kilometers. Cuba's most important hydrographic basins are the Cauto, Zaza, and Sagua la Grande.

Climate

Cuba's climate is subtropical, warm, and humid; annual mean temperatures average 25° C. The hottest month in Havana (24 meters above sea level) is August, with an average monthly minimum of 24° C to 32° C; the coldest months are January and February, averaging 18° C to 27° C (with occasional freezing temperatures in mountainous areas).

Cuba's average annual rainfall is 1,400 millimeters, but the annual amount varies greatly from year to year. The driest months are February and March, averaging 46 millimeters of rainfall. The wettest month is October, with average rainfall of 173 millimeters.

Most of Cuba experiences a rainy season from May to October. The country averages about one hurricane every other year. The most frequent storms occur in September and October, but hurricane season generally runs from June to November (from August to November on the east coast). Heavy rains may cause landslides in hills and mountain slopes in the highlands.

Natural Resources

In addition to arable land, Cuba's natural resources include chromium, cobalt, copper, iron ore, manganese, natural gas, nickel (the world’s second largest reserves), petroleum, salt silica, and timber.

Although generally considered to be poorly endowed with energy resources, Cuba is one of only three countries in the Caribbean with significant oil and gas reserves; proven hydrocarbon reserves in 2005 totaled 750 million barrels of oil and 2.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas.

In 2005 Cuba announced its first new discovery of oil since 1999—a reserve of 100 million barrels located 54 kilometers from Havana. The U.S. Geological Survey has estimated that Cuban territorial waters in the Gulf of Mexico could contain at least 4.6 billion barrels of oil and 9.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

Land Use

Two-thirds of Cuba, or about 6,686,700 hectares, is covered with fertile plains suitable for cultivation; at least 3,701,400 hectares, and as much as 60 percent of the total arable land, are cultivated for agriculture.

About 12 percent of agricultural land contains highly productive, deep, and permeable soils; about a fifth of the land is marginal for agriculture and is kept as meadows and pastures.

The state controls about one-quarter of agricultural land, and the nonstate sector about three-quarters. Of the country’s remaining uncultivated land, about a fifth is pasture or fallow and about a quarter forested. Human settlements account for 6.3 percent (or 694,000 hectares).

Environmental Factors

Water contamination with raw sewage, industrial waste, and agricultural run-off is the country’s most significant environmental problem.

Source: Library of Congress, 2006

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