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Haiti Environmental Issues

The conditions of the environment in Haiti have raised a great deal of concern since the overall situation of the residents had been affected, as well as the overall development of the country. In the Encyclopedia of the Nations, it has been stated that according to an AID report, “Haiti is suffering from a degree of environmental degradation almost without equal in the entire world. ” (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007) One of the major environmental issues in Haiti is the widespread deforestation that had occurred over the recent years.

Another related environmental concern is the degree of soil degradation or soil erosion which cannot be taken lightly since agriculture and food production would be, as it already is, severely affected. (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007; Gentile, 2007; Collie, n. d. ) Several measures should be undertaken to address these problems. Measures should be focusing on long-term solutions to the problems mentioned; and should be able to attract cooperation from the various sectors of the society.

External sources of assistance may offer great benefit for Haiti; however, mobilizing internal resources could also be promising towards long-term development. Unfortunately, the attempt to solve the environmental problems in Haiti may not be as simple as strict implementations of environmental programs. As expressed by Collie, these environmental and economic problems in Haiti seem to be more deep-seated into other problems of the country as well; including ‘political turmoil’ and corruption, among other factors. (Collie, n. d. ) Environmental Issue: Deforestation Lush forests and foliage used to cover the entire country of Haiti.

Deforestation that had occurred over the years had left only a devastating four percent (4%) of total land area covered with trees. Three percent (3%) of Haiti’s forest is lost each year, according to the United Nations report. (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007) Another report indicated that less than one percent of Haiti’s forest is left. (Collie, n. d. ) The main reason for cutting down trees is the need for charcoal which is used as energy source in Haiti. In other words, the ‘root cause’ of deforestation is the demand for firewood or charcoal as an energy source for the country.

(Gentile, 2007; Marquez, 2005) Although attempts to replace this energy resource with petroleum or gas from the international market have been made with assistance from the World Bank; the people in Haiti could not afford the high prices. Firewood and charcoal retain their utility as these sources remain to be more convenient and economical. (Marquez, 2005) Therefore, more than 70% of energy sources in Haiti still come from wood or other biomass. (Gentile, 2007) Several efforts were exerted by both local and international organizations in order to restore the number of trees in Haiti through planting of trees.

Yet still, according to Gentile, they were “unable to pace up with mass consumption of wood”. (Gentile, 2007) A major catastrophic effect of deforestation is the resulting flash floods such as what happened during the tropical storm Jeanne that occurred in September 2004. The storm; which brought incredible amounts of water and mud rushing down the mountains; severely devastated Haiti; killed about 3,000 residents and brought destruction to countless homes, livestock and business establishments. The city of Gonaives was most affected by the storm.

Needlessly to say, in the recent years, even light rain would result in a comparable degree of flooding which affects the overall living condition of the residents. (Collie, n. d; Gentile, 2007) Another effect of flash floods due to vast deforestation is the contamination of the bodies of water and disruption of the vital balance of ecosystems in rivers, streams and lakes. (Gentile, 2007) Gradually, these bodies of water become overwhelmed with large amounts of soil run-off, stones and silt being dumped. Fishing livelihood had also been negatively affected which again diminishes sources of food and clean water for the people of Haiti.

(Collie, n. d; Gentile, 2007) Haiti, however, have received external aide on these environmental matters. An eight million, US funded, Agroforestry Outreach Project have been launched in 1981. Farmers worked hand-in-hand to replant trees throughout the country of Haiti. Three years later, about four and a half million seedlings were planted. (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007) Environmental Issue: Soil Erosion / Soil Degradation Soil erosion, according to Saint-Jean as cited by Gentile, had been a cumulative problem over decades.

(Gentile, 2007) The ‘root cause’ of soil erosion is vast deforestation, most specifically at the hillsides and mountains. (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007) Note that an estimated two-thirds of agricultural lands have been destroyed over the decades since the 1940s. (Collie, n. d. ) The problem of soil erosion; as it is interrelated with deforestation; is also related to low agricultural productivity of the lands; pollution of the bodies of water; the disruption of different life forms such as fishes among these waters, which are sources of food as well; and the availability of safe, potable water supply.

(Gentile, 2007) The bodies of water are being dumped with gradual amounts of soil, mud and stones. As the Encycolpedia of the Nations explains, “the nation loses 1. 35 tons of soil per square kilometre”. (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007) As much as four hundred (400) small rivers and streams have been dumped with silt and have gradually disappeared within the period. On the other hand, twenty-five, out of thirty watersheds, have been destroyed; affecting potable water supply. (Collie, n. d. )

Not only is the lost of fertile topsoil a problem; but also, the inability of the soil to absorb water brought about by rain. Flood is another interrelated problem with soil erosion. (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007) Irrigation systems have also been affected by silt deposition. In the Artibonite Valley, for example, which have been known as the “nation’s rice basket” where rice fields used to flourish; the irrigation canals have clogged up. Water supply had difficulty penetrating the fields due to this sediment build-up among the irrigation systems. Needless to say, rice production had been greatly affected.

Note that, according to a government survey conducted in 1998, most of the estimated thirty-seven million tons of topsoil losses have affected this area of the Artibonite Valley. (Collie, n. d. ) Proposed Solutions to Environmental Issues of Deforestation and Soil Erosion As the problems of the environment, namely deforestation and soil erosion are interrelated; solutions that can be undertaken may help alleviate both issues. However, several factors should be considered. The country’s population have quadrupled and the overall economy and politics have not been stable.

(Collie, n. d. ) The use of biofuel as alternative energy source to firewood and charcoal would really be of great help to lessen the pressure of cutting down trees that lead to deforestation and soil erosion. (Gentile, 2007) One type of biofuel has already been used for lamps and stoves in some other countries like India and Africa. This type of biofuel may as well benefit the country, Haiti. Although, as Gentile says, Haiti would have to rely on privately funded research to investigate on how this new biofuel may be integrated into the everyday life in Haiti. (Gentile, 2007)

This new biofuel comes from a plant called Jatropha curcas plant. It has been described as a “hearty seed-bearing plant” wherein the seeds are the main components to produce a source of fuel for energy use. (Gentile, 2007) Haiti would have to rely on external source but the assistance should not be too extensive in order to avoid any further economic dependency which may eventually hamper long-term economic development. (Collie, n. d. ) External aide must only be to the extent of the proper initiation of the program and some initial technologies and techniques needed to further the program.

After a while, Haiti must be able to sustain the program using their own nation’s resources. (Gentile, 2007) The Jatropha curcas plant offer great potential to be grown in Haiti. The plant is quite sturdy and can grow even under harsh, dry conditions in Haiti. Not much moisture and care are needed to grow the plant. Once successful, the plant may live for up to 50 years while producing enormous amounts of seeds for use as biofuel. Interestingly, the plant is only vulnerable to animal consumption; such as livestock and other plant-eating animals; only within the first three months of its growth.

Within a nine month period, the seeds may now be harvested. (Gentile, 2007) Note that Haiti is also experiencing a degree of overpopulation. The need for energy source, therefore, is enormous. Luckily, Jatropha can yield as much as six (6) to twelve (12) tons of fuel for every hectare of the plant. This is really beneficial for Haiti since this would save trees from being chopped down. In this context, a ton of charcoal can be produced from harvesting two (2) average-sized trees. Cumulatively, thousands of trees are saved by the use of biofuels.

(Gentile, 2007) Another very important contributory factor to success of any environmental program is public awareness and education. (Gentile, 2007) The program for education of the public would not cost that much and would be even more beneficial on a small-scale approach and long-term efforts. Society members should be able to organize themselves into teaching groups and target farmers and other villagers to be able to educate them on the seriousness of the environmental conditions and what must be done to halt the degradation.

Furthermore, the national government would be able to play a very important role in the restoration of the environment. First and foremost, anti-corruption measures should be undertaken. (Collie, n. d. ) Next, the government should establish protected areas of the forest from illegal, even legal, logging. Seedlings must be planted on a large-scale and long-term basis as well. (Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007) Conclusion Haiti’s environmental conditions should be addressed with more seriously and with a long-term approach.

The extent of programs may even affect the established systems of everyday living. Most specifically, the gradual but permanent shift of obtaining energy resources should be implemented; from charcoal to other forms of biofuel – the Jatropha seeds, for instance. Since Haitian could not afford petroleum or gas; this alternative would be a more appropriate alternative. Changing the energy source would, in effect, lessen the pressure on the forest trees and would help restore the integrity of the soil.

Furthermore, the cycle continues, as such, the bodies of water are restored; and agriculture and fishing can now be more productive. If Haiti is successful enough, the economic conditions may as well be uplifted and the overall quality of life. The path to recovery for Haiti would not at all be a breeze. However, with society’s cooperation and hard-work, these programs and ordeals will soon show interesting results.


Collie, Tim. (n. d. ). Haiti: `The world doesn’t have any idea how bad this situation is getting’.Retrieved July 17, 2007, from http://www. towncomputer. com/Haiti_world. htm. Encyclopedia of the Nations. (2007). Haiti Environment. Retrieved July 16, 2007, from http://www. nationsencyclopedia. com/Americas/Haiti-ENVIRONMENT. html. Gentile, Carmen. (2007, Jul 17). HAITI: A Land Crumbling Beneath Their Feet. Retrieved July 18, 2007, from http://www. ipsnews. net/news. asp? idnews=38569. Marquez, Humberto. (2005, Nov 17). HAITI: Petroleum Greases the Deforestation Process. Retrieved July 16, 2007, from http://ipsnews. net/news. asp? idnews=31057.

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