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Burning Haiti at Both Ends

Burning Haiti at Both Ends

Haiti has the dubious distinction of possessing an estimated 2% forest cover, putting the island nation well below the global average, which is estimated at between 9% and 12%. In the past, we’ve discussed ways in which the the moringa tree can help in fighting the problem of deforestation, not least of which is by providing an alternative fuel source for Haiti’s people.

Given that the Oxford English Dictionary credits the word “barbeque” as having its origins in the word barbacoa in the Taino language of Haiti’s original inhabitants, it is perhaps less than surprising to learn that in the modern era, tree cover loss in the Pearl of the Antilles is mostly driven by the country’s appetite for charcoal.

Charcoal is a mainstay in Haiti not only because of its traditional place in the cooking process, but also because of the relative expense involved in switching to other fuels or energy sources, like solar power, kerosene or propane. Despite the increasing scarcity of trees, charcoal is still the most affordable option in Haiti and doesn’t require specialized equipment in order to be used.

The inability of the soil and by extension, the water table, to effectively retain and manage water impacts people’s access to clean water for drinking and agriculture. Deforestation causes economic stagnation and robs the country of arable land, in addition to magnifying the impacts of flooding, storms and earthquakes by making the earth less stable, leading to problems like landslides and mudslides, which then strip the land of nutrient-rich topsoil. Some scientists have even gone as far as to say that deforestation, coupled with regional storm activity, actually triggered the earthquake that ravaged Haiti in 2010.

Various initiatives have since been put into place in the country – promotion of greener fuel/energy alternatives, increased policing/enforcement of forestry laws, reforestation initiatives – but even the most optimistic predictions forecast a slow process in returning tree cover to the country. The good news is that there is increasing awareness of the issues that charcoal consumption causes, which can hopefully lead to a sea change in Haiti’s habits, and to increased incentive to seek out other options.

Crédit photo: UN/ Photo/Sophia Paris

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