Deforestation in Haiti
Deforestation in Haiti is commonly seen as a severe environmental problem. Haitians burn wood charcoal for 60% of their domestic energy production. Recent in-depth studies of satellite imagery and environmental analysis regarding forest classification conclude that Haiti has approximately 30% tree cover. In 1923 over 60% of Haiti's land was forested.
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.
Dynamics and impact
The rapid deforestation of Haiti began during the colonial period, and was intensified when coffee was introduced in 1730. Upland forest 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 (Paskett and Pholoctete, 1990).
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. No longer under colonial rule, land remained unequally distributed nevertheless, and peasants 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
Because of Haiti running out of plant material to burn, Haitians have created an illegal market for coal on the Dominican side. Conservative estimates calculate the illegal movement of 115 tons of charcoal per week from the Dominican Republic to Haiti in 2014. Dominican officials estimate that at least 10 trucks per week are crossing the border loaded with charcoal.
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, but as many as seven trees were cut for each new tree planted.
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.
- Jake Kheel. "The charcoal war". LatinAmericanScience.org. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
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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.
- O'Connor, M.R. (13 October 2016). "The world’s favorite disaster story - One of the most repeated facts about Haiti is a lie". VICE News. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
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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".