Haiti’s geographical location leaves it prone to a number of potentially disastrous natural phenomena such as hurricanes, tropical storms and earthquakes, which have frequently caused widespread devastation and major loss of life within the country, the latest example being Hurricane Matthew in October 2016. Any country would find it difficult to deal with the challenges thrown up by such natural events. However, in the case of Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, the task is compounded by centuries of environmental degradation and mismanagement.
Even prior to the 2010 earthquake, the Haitian environment was considered to be an ecological disaster. Writing in 2008, in the wake of the devastating effects of two tropical storms, journalist Nancy Roc put this down to a myriad of factors, including “deforestation [Haiti has lost 98% of its forest cover], soil erosion, water shortages, urban insalubrities, loss of biodiversity, anarchic exploitation of quarries, degradation of the marine ecosystem, urbanisation, encroaching shanty towns, demographic pressure and poverty”. The full article provides a good overview of the situation at that point and the reasons for it and called on the Haitian authorities, in collaboration with the international community, to “specifically combat deforestation, pollution and the sedimentation of the coastline; protect natural forests and water planning; and manage solid and industrial waste and the erosion of biological diversity”.
Two years on and the earthquake renders the task all the more difficult while further highlighting the importance of addressing these issues. In the opinion of environmental journalist Stephan Faris, the extent of the suffering unleashed by the earthquake was a direct result of the country’s ecological woes. “If deforestation has made the country poor, the resulting destitution exasperates the environmental degradation. Forests disappear. The slopes lose their soil. Farm land slips away. Entire villages disappear under mudslides. Roads and bridges are wiped away. The slums continue to swell. The country sinks deeper into poverty. Pressed to survive, another farmer chops down another tree to sell in the city as charcoal.”
At the time of the earthquake, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in collaboration with the Earth Institute at Columbia University, USA, and Haitian partners, were in the process of launching a 20-year Haiti Regeneration Initiative (HGI). The overall objective of the original HGI was ‘to reduce poverty and disaster vulnerability in Haiti through the restoration of ecosystems and livelihoods based on sustainable natural resource management’.
The HGI is now being revised in the light of recent events with a renewed emphasis on the sustainable development and recovery of rural Haiti over the next 20 years. A strategic framework document is currently under consultation. See: Haiti Regeneration Framework, 24 June 2010 (Word document). Many national and international non-government organisations (NGOs) are also working on different aspects of environmental rehabilitation in Haiti.
The Haiti Support Group works to ensure that such NGOs and all those involved in designing the new HGI are in constant and meaningful consultation with Haitian CSOs and their members when planning future projects. Experience has shown that without local and national “ownership” of such plans and the projects and policies they spawn, without a “buy in” from those most impacted, these schemes fail, often spectacularly.
Recent press articles:
- Haiti earthquake, deforestation heighten landslide risk National Geographic News, 14 January 2010
- Haiti’s environment needs long-term help: experts Reuters, 19 January 2010
- Haiti and the Dominican Republic: One Island, Two Worlds Jared Diamond, 20 January 2010
- Rebuilding Hait from the Roots Up Living on Earth, 22 January 2010
- The Looming Threat Newsweek, 24 January 2010
- Environment and Food in Haiti: Two Crises, One Solution Beverley Bell, 24 May 2010
The Haiti Regeneration Initiative (HGI):
- Official website: http://haitiregeneration.org/
- The Earth Institute at Columbia University: http://haiti.ciesin.columbia.edu/
- “Post-Earthquake Haiti – An Environmental Overview”, Haiti Mission Report, UNEP, March 2010 [pdf file]
- “A Future for Haiti: Science and Solutions for a Beleaguered Nation”, Earth Institute video, March 2010
- Haiti Regeneration Initiative – Preliminary Concept Note (pre-earthquake) [pdf file]
- “Haiti’s earthquake: from disaster to environmental opportunity?”, Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre, 26 May 2010
Some Haitian NGOs working on the environment:
- Organization for the Rehabilitation of the Environment (ORE): http://www.oreworld.org/index.htm
- Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL): http://www.oursoil.org/
- Trees for the Future: http://www.plant-trees.org/projects/haiti.htm
- The Lambi Fund of Haiti: http://www.lambifund.org/
- Haiti Survie / Friends of the Earth Haiti: http://www.foei.org/en/who-we-are/member-directory/groups-by-region/haiti.html
- Haiti National Coalition for the Environment: http://haitienvironment.blogs.escapecs.com/about/
- EarthTrends (World Resources Institute) – Country profile: Biodiversity and Protected Areas – Haiti (2003): http://earthtrends.wri.org/pdf_library/country_profiles/bio_cou_332.pdf