Haiti Environmental Degradation
Essay title: Haiti Environmental Degradation
Haiti: Environmental degradation
The scrubby green mountains welcoming a visitor to Haiti tell it all.
From the ground, they throw cool shadows over the Caribbean and cities like Port-au-Prince, a mirage of lushness. But from an airplane, the green gives way to deep, sand-colored gouges of erosion and a mediterranean sparseness unsuited to this tropical island.
Less obvious are the dozens of environmental projects that have sprung up in recent years. Some, like a four-year, $30 million natural resource project sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development, are massive. Others, like the tiny tree nurseries sprouting atop the mountainside community of Buteau, about 60 miles south of Port- au-Prince, are minuscule.
But increasingly, environmentalists are looking at grassroots conservation, rather than government-sponsored efforts, as the key to Haitis future. They criticize the Haitian government and the international community for not doing enough, and for pegging environmental issues to political self interest.
Were only in the beginning of the environmental fight, said Emile Eyma, Head of IRATAM, a private environmental and development think-tank based in Port-au-Prince. And that doesnt mean that millions havent already been spent on the environment and erosion control–especially by international organizations.
Each year, the countrys 7 million inhabitants burn the equivalent of 30 million trees–20 million more than the country grows annually. Forests have shrunk from covering 80 percent of Haitis lands several hundred years ago, to only 3 percent today.
Deforestation stepped up during the international trade embargo, between 1991-1994, as people burned trees for the fuel they could no longer import. Haitis exploding population growth hasnt helped either. Strapped for cash and burdened by innumerable needs, the government has not placed a major emphasis on conservation. Only $300,000 has been earmarked for the environment in Haitis 1995-1996 budget–only about .17 percent of the governments overall budget.
The government has a lot of priorities and the environment isnt one of them, Eyma said.
For their part, large-scale international efforts have ebbed and flowed with the tides of Haitian politics. During the trade embargo, many environmental programs ground to a halt.
If change is to come, Eyma and other experts say, it will come through efforts of Haitians like Marcel Kercelin, whose nine-year toil to reforest his hillside farm have yielded small green groves of fruit and hardwood trees and two neat tree nurseries of potted mango, eucalyptus and palm. This is desolate ground, Kercelin said, surveying the steep hills climbing skyward and crisscrossed with small farms. Thats why I started planting.