Haiti’s Natural and Built Environment


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”.

Seven 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.

Additional background:

Recent press articles:

The Haiti Regeneration Initiative (HGI):

Some Haitian NGOs working on the environment:

Other resources:

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