Deforestation in Haiti
Deforestation in Haiti is commonly seen as a severe although complex and often misunderstood and misrepresented environmental problem. Haitians produce and consume charcoal as their primary source of domestic energy. Although it has been widely reported that in 1923 over 60% of Haiti's land was forested, the source of this assertion remains unknown but may be linked to the U.S. Marine Occupation in Haiti. In 2006, the country was claimed to have less than 2% forest cover. Although significantly deforested, this estimate has been challenged as drastically incorrect due to unsubstantiated research. Nonetheless, the unsubstantiated 2% estimate has been widely circulated in media and in discourse concerning the country. Recent in-depth studies of satellite imagery and environmental analysis regarding forest classification conclude that Haiti has approximately 30% tree cover. Environmental modeling undertaken in 2018 suggests that in a 'business-as-usual' scenario of wood depletion, over the next decade, above-ground woody biomass in Haiti would only decrease by approximately 4% of existing stocks , lending credence to the notion that the issue is vastly misunderstood and exaggerated.
Dynamics and impact
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The rapid deforestation of Haiti began during the colonial period facilitated by slavery of captive Africans, and was intensified when coffee was introduced in 1730. Upland forests were cleared and fifty years later, a quarter of the colony's land was under coffee. The system of plantation monoculture and clean -cultivation between rows of coffee, indigo, tobacco, and sugarcane exhausted soil nutrients and led to rapid erosion
Following the Haitian revolution, the government was forced to export timber throughout the 19th century to pay off a 90 million franc indemnity to France for the "loss" equivalent to the 'value' of the formerly enslaved population. The timber installments had to be made for over a century to cover the original amount plus interest. Though no longer under colonial rule, land remained unequally distributed, and most people were granted access only to marginal slopes between 200 and 600m above the fertile plains and below the zones of coffee production. These hillside soils were particularly susceptible to erosion when cleared for farming.
Deforestation sped up after Hurricane Hazel drowned trees throughout the island in 1954. Beginning in about 1954, concessionaires stepped up their logging operations in response to Port-au-Prince's intensified demand for charcoal. Deforestation accelerated, which had already become a problem because of environmentally unsound agricultural practices, rapid population growth, and increased competition over land. Techniques that could make forestry more productive for fuel like coppicing and pollarding were not used.
The most direct effect of deforestation is soil erosion. An estimated 15,000 acres (61 km2) of topsoil are washed away each year, with erosion also damaging other productive infrastructure such as dams, irrigation systems, roads, and coastal marine ecosystems. Soil erosion also lowers the productivity of the land, worsens droughts, and eventually leads to desertification, all of which increase the pressure on the remaining land and trees.
Targeting of Dominican Republic forests
Dominican military officials have created a lucrative charcoal trade, and have hired Haitian labor to produce charcoal just over the border. Much of this charcoal is destined for Puerto Rico and the United States mainland, although a small amount crosses over the border into Haiti. Some estimates calculate the illegal movement of 115 tons of charcoal per week from the Dominican Republic to Haiti in 2014, but these estimates are based on incomplete surveys and the numbers are highly contested. Dominican officials estimate that at least 10 trucks per week are crossing the border loaded with charcoal. Ultimately the uncertainty around how much charcoal is originating from the Dominican Republic will be settled by a nationwide charcoal production and consumption study financed by the World Bank, and due out in late 2018. This study positioned charcoal truck and charcoal boat enumerators along all border entry-points, at three different week-long periods throughout the year, 24-hours a day. The counts will be extrapolated to the entire year.
Most of Haiti's governments have paid only lip service to the imperative of reforestation. The main impetus to act came from abroad. USAID's Agroforestry Outreach Program, Pwojè Pyebwa, was Haiti's major reforestation program in the 1980s. Peasants planted more than 25 million trees under Projè Pyebwa in its first incarnation.
Later efforts to save Haiti's trees focused on intensifying reforestation programs, reducing waste in charcoal production, introducing more wood-efficient stoves, and importing wood under USAID's Food for Peace program. Because most Haitians depend upon wood and charcoal as their primary fuel source, energy alternatives are needed to save the forests. A 15-year Environment Action Plan, authorized in 1999, proposed to stop deforestation by developing alternative fuel sources. Political instability and lack of funding have limited the impact of this reform effort.
Several agencies and companies that produce solar cookers as an alternative to using wood and charcoal have been working in Haiti to establish solutions to the poverty and fuel issues, though their effectiveness and the degree to which they are used are questionable.
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- Country Profile: Haiti. Library of Congress Federal Research Division (May 2006). This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
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- Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, Penguin Books, 2005 and 2011 (ISBN 9780241958681). See chapter 11 entitled "One Island, Two People, Two Histories: The Dominican Republic and Haiti".