No trees, no top-soil. Lethal mudslides highlight urgent need for reforestation, and agrarian reform – Haiti Support Group press release, 26 May 2004
Hundreds – perhaps thousands – of people have been killed by mudslides and flash foods in the border region around Malpasse, Fond Verettes, Thiotte and Grand Gosier. In Fond Verettes around 160 people died as a flash flood scoured a section of town half a mile long and 1,000 feet wide. At least 540 houses were destroyed or buried, and another 1,500 were damaged, according to a UN official.
Relief workers say that about 50 of the 135 or so people killed on the Dominican side of the border were thought to be Haitian black-market traders camped out in the town of Jimani.
Heavy rain has been falling in parts of Haiti for weeks. The whole south of the country has been more or less cut off from the capital, Port-au-Prince, the centre and the north, for several weeks after the Acul River burst its banks and carried away the only road at the town of Léogâne.
The impact of the heavy rain is nothing new. In September 1998, Hurricane Georges brought flooding and mudslides that claimed hundreds of lives and considerable damage to agricultural land in the centre of the country. In December 2003, a number of people died and around 34,0000 people were evacuated following flooding in the regions around the northern towns of Cap-Haïtien and Port-de-Paix.
These recurring natural disasters highlight the need to address the very serious problem of deforestation in Haiti. It is estimated that tree cover in the country is less than two per cent. Without trees, the top soil is washed away and erosion leaves bare rocks on the mountainsides. When there is heavy rain, the water cannot be absorbed and so cascades down hillsides sweeping away everything in its path.
Effective reforestation programmes are absolutely essential in Haiti. For such programmes to be effective they need to be implemented as part of an extensive agrarian reform in order to relieve pressure on farm land, and, in particular, to provide alternatives to charcoal production.
The Haiti Support Group believes that a reforestation/agrarian reform strategy, and not free trade zone expansion, should be at the heart of development plans in Haiti.