Earth Day 2017 – Deforested Mountains Made Hurricane Matthew Worse for Haiti
If it seems like Haiti has a disproportionate number of natural disasters, you’re right. But it’s more than just bad luck or lousy geographical positioning (tornado alley anyone?). Some (too much) of the damage, death, and suffering is man-made. The cause? Deforestation.
According to the World Bank, Haiti has less than 4% tree coverage as of 2015. Why? Because oil is expensive, Haitians make charcoal by cutting down and burning trees in massive heaps; the process is disturbing. Charcoal has provided 85% of Haiti’s cooking energy for decades, and along with heating daily meals for millions, the practice has left behind an environmental calamity:
Over 15,000 acres of topsoil are washed away annually lowering land productivity, decreasing water sheds and leading to a desert landscape (all of which stress remaining foliage). Moreover, soil erosion damages dams, irrigation, roads, and coastal marine ecosystems. In times of severe weather, torrential rain washes down barren mountains ripping down shrubs, soil, crops, houses, livestock, and people. Water packed mud slams into villages leaving behind death, destruction, and an unbelievable clean up task.
It wasn’t always this way.
In the 1980’s, Haiti had 25% of its forests, allowing hillsides to withstand heavy rain. 1987’s category 3 Hurricane Emily passed across this tiny island nation without loss of life; forested mountains were the reason. In direct contrast, by 2004, less than 4% of Haiti’s forests remained. In that year, tropical storm Jeanne (note – it’s not even a hurricane) crossed the western Artibonite causing flooding which killed 1,870, injured 2,620, and displaced 300,000.
Now add in this: it doesn’t even take a tropical storm to devastate Haiti. Earlier that same year, three days of heavy rains from a tropical disturbance dumped more than 18 inches of rain in the mountains, triggering floods, killing over 2,600 and causing massive misery. Consider longer-term effects like cholera, malnutrition (no more crops or livestock), and homelessness, torrential rain will keep Haiti in extreme poverty unless a radical environmental change takes place.
Education and poverty eradication are critical to keeping Haiti’s environment green as is a desperate need for alternative fuel / the prevention of charcoal making and the prevention of building on flood plains.
Moreover, reforesting Haiti with income-providing crops and trees is essential. For our part, Singing Rooster has planted tens of thousands of coffee seedlings and is launching the same with cacao fields. Income-providing reforestation protects the forest; chopping trees down for firewood isn’t an option because they provide families with money to pay for school tuition, clothing, food. These trees, in turn, protect the taller trees that provides necessary shade for their optimal growth. Our planting of income trees is ongoing and your coffee seedling donation is welcomed.
Income-providing reforestation also helps Haiti to become self-sustaining and will help farmers re-gain a reputation for world-class coffee and cacao on international markets. Everybody wins — even relief agencies.