Blogwatch

February 18, 2009
Haitians destroy environment in struggle to survive

Haiti is a tiny island country in the Caribbean and the poorest in the Western hemisphere with 49 percent of its people living in absolute poverty.

Worldfocus special correspondent Benno Schmidt and producer Ara Ayer visited there recently and report that in their struggle to survive, Haitians are destroying the very elements of their environment that sustain them.

Months after the storms have passed, some Haitians are trying to dig their homes out of 10 to 15 feet of mud. The video Hurricane mudslides bury Haitian towns explores how long-gone storms continue to interfere with day-to-day life.

Below, bloggers discuss the environmental disaster in Haiti and what can be done.

A blogger at “Haiti Tales” describes her experience visiting Haiti for the first time:

We were “prepared” to be bombarded by locals when we arrived begging for money, but never was I ready to see the amount of people waiting - for our plane only (only two fly in each day). Surreal thing - as we landed in Port au Prince, you could see the devastation on the mountains from past and recent storms [...] I was dumfounded by the amount of people in the streets - very dirt[y], very condensed streets. There were fires started in the roads, stray (skinny) dogs everywhere eating from garbage and little kids walking around near dark by themselves. [...] The air wreaked of fire.

Very devastated place here — very poor — very sad. Lots of beauty though too, and I am hopeful that I will see more of all of it.

Blogger Daniel Schnitzer, the director of an organization working on environmental innovation projects, writes about possibilities for building Haiti’s future:

Back in August of 2008, during my first trip to Haiti, I was standing in front of the heaviest paperweight I had ever seen in my life.  It was a perfectly new 170 kW diesel generator, connected to a non-functional streetlighting grid in a coastal town called Tiburon on the western tip of Haiti’s southern peninsula.  My Haitian friends had told me that the local congressman invested tens of thousands of dollars and a great deal of effort into developing this project. But now that he had been re-elected, no one was sure whether this generator would ever give light to Tiburon. Electricite d’Haiti built the grid, but had since abandoned it.

This was just one of several personal encounters I had on that trip with symptoms of the governmental and market failure we read and hear about. [...]

In Les Anglais, InterIntel is building a clean energy retail store to stock appropriate energy technologies like solar lamps, solar home systems, and efficient charcoal stoves. Of course, merely having a brick and mortar store is insufficient to engender the transition to cleaner energy sources. This project is characterized by three other key features - cooperation, training and microfinance - to foster this type of change.

Another Web site, Konkou Biznis Ayiti, has launched a contest for entrepreneurs, hoping to bring biogas — a form of renewable biofuel — to Haiti.

For more Worldfocus coverage of Haiti, visit our extended coverage page: Haiti’s Poor.

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Comments

23 comments

#23

It is indeed a crime that we live with such riches in the Western world while Haiti starves at our doorstep. And these haters have no compassion! We need to all contribute $1 per week to Haiti. With 300 million people in the US alone, that would be 3.6 Billion per year. After a generation of Haitians have been raised with our food we could see them develop at least to the level of Detroit. It is unbelievably racist to expect Haitians (or Detroiters) to work and produce anything of value. They should be allowed - encouraged even - to dance, sing, reproduce in vast numbers, at our expense. How anyone could suggest that they be responsible for themselves is just sick and evil.

#22

The Dominican Republic as traditionally a U.S. client state as well. U.S. patronage of ruling governments in either country is no master variable that explains the gulf between Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

#21

[...] Haitians destroy environment in struggle to survive [...]

#20

Totalmente de acuerdo con Sean Barth … Viva Haiti!!

Desde Venezuela apoyo a Haití!

#19

It’s truly, a sad state of affairs. Haiti shares the Island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic known for it’s beautiful beach resorts, music and people. So, why the contrast? Because, for over 75 years, Haiti has been ruled my dictators and others, who asked the United Stated for financial aid for it’s nation, what they did was stash millions and millions of Dollars, in their Swedish Bank Accounts. Not one cent of it was used for the purpose it was intended.
If the USA, intends to help Haiti financiall in the near future, it must be carefully distributed and monitored very carefully.~ It’s hard to believe
how the greediness of politicians, is stonger than the hunger of it’s people.

#18

Isn’t there a way that the Haitian women making dirt cookies could use their same tools, technique, etc. but with real grain? What about johnnycakes? (corn) or????? I realize that it is a very complex problem, including what would happen to the grains, oil, sugar, etc. (taken by the government, military, black market operators?) However, if SOMETHING could be put into place where these women could make real, nutritious “cookies,” I would be happy to make a monthly contribution (and yes, it’s hard times in my home, too); I would just have to be reassured that the materials were actually going to the women and that the “cookies” were feeding children and other hungry people (not stolen or strongarmed for profit). Can anyone smarter/with more resources than me do something? I would help! Jade Kemble

#17

Wa Mouri avan Bill Perry!

#16

One organization that I know from personal experience to be well run and effective is Hands-On Disaster Response (HODR, http://www.hodr.org)(I worked as a volunteer in post-earthquake Pisco, Peru.) Currently they are doing the hard, dirty work of simply clearing mud. Sometimes people just need to do the work at hand, even though, yes, without reforestation, next year and the next, the mud may come again. The longer-lasting benefit is to give desperate people the hope and the sense that someone cares that is needed to someday move themselves beyond survival.

#15

@John D.

How fortunate for you that have the ability to close the book on billions of hungry people all over the world with no remorse. Your position is less than subhuman and even though I hear similar things from people in your camp all the time, I still have a hard time dealing with the fact that someone can actually think in such a way and not completely lose it.

Condemning the poor to death is an unacceptable tactic in the struggle to build a better world. If you don’t believe in helping, continue to do nothing and rest well. You’re apathy makes me sad and I can only hope for your conversion to the side of humanity before it’s too late. Time to wake up…

#14

@Bill Perry
Haiti is currently a failed state. A big reason for that is the long-lasting corrupt and feckless Duvalier regimes. The US gov’t was the prime backer of the Duvaliers because we were in the midst of the Cold War. With Communist Cuba off our shores and Russia still a threat, we happily backed the friendly bad guys because it served our purposes. The Carter administration imposed human rights conditionalities on Baby D; Reagan subsequently removed these.

After Baby D was deposed, he took a hefty sum from Haiti’s coffers leaving Haiti broke. Desperate for cash and unable to recover it (they are supposed to get it back soon thanks to joint Haitian/UN/Swiss efforts), they took loans from the IMF. In exchange, the Fund wanted its pound of flesh which roughly ended up crippling much of Haiti agricultural system as Sean B describes.

The people aren’t stupid. The average Joe there is playing with a deck that heavily stacked against them and is doing the best the can given limited resources, information and choices. You would do well to remember that.

@k.reilly
Some recent studies have shown that planting fruit trees tend to be more helpful during reforestation projects. Folks are less likely to cut them down because of this added benefit.

#13

Resist the urge to give any support. You’re only making yourself feel better. Whenever you send money to support hungry people, you are just causing more pain by prolonging the pain over more years and more generations. The best help is either no help or aid that only improves a nation’s infrastructure. The quicker they can get to a population size that is supportable with their available food and resources the better.

#12

The same thing is now happening to the forestry on New Providence, Bahamas. Acres of woodland is being burned by Haitian immigrants here in the Bahamas and now we know why. Thank you World Focus for your excellent informing piece. Now we know why strong smoke wakes us up every morning.

Bahamas Press

#11

Poverty is everywhere and chronic in some places. The problems confronting Haiti can be solved just by a mere strategic planning with a spirit of renaissance. Haiti is basically the size of Rhode Island…$1.00 a week from each concerned individual steadily can alleviate the plight of haitians into a new way of life.It can be done. Yes we can!

#10

Talking about pollution in Haiti, maybe next time it would be also appropriate to show videos and pictures of those international cruise ships that are regularly dumping their waste on the north coast of Haiti. Just for your information a single cruise ship produces per person, per day 1 kg of burnable waste, 0.5 kg food waste and 1 kg of glass and tin. Addition to this, there was enough information in the past about US cargo ships dumping thousands tons of waste on the Haitian beaches, near port of Gonaives. It seems that this is not only the problem of Haiti: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7897631.stm

So, maybe before pointing fingers on Haitians, we can ask the question: ‘Why such many highly developed and rich countries with strong waste management practices and high technologies are still illegally deposing their waste in countries like Haiti?’

#9

History lesson: Haiti has been under the boot of the international community since they defeated the French and declared their independence in 1804. After 205 years of being forced to depend upon the “developed” world, the people of Haiti now find themselves in what seems like an unresolvable crisis. Perfect example: foreign rice (mostly from the US) has been flooding the markets for twenty years forcing traditional farmers to leave their land and move to the cities in search of work. Until 1986, Haiti produced more than 80% of it’s own food…now it imports 80%. This situation is not their fault. I urge everyone to do some homework before labeling the Haitian people “stupid” or some other derogatory (i.e. ignorant) term. They may be at the bottom of the “material wealth” list, but they more than make up for it in resilience, creativity, and character. Forgive the debt, invest in infrastructure, invest in native agriculture, stop the deportation of the 30,000+ Haitians in the US. Let Haiti live!

From Haiti: Sean Barth (www.freewebs.com/sbrb)

#8

An organization called FOKAL (fokal.org) has been on the ground for more than 13 years making an impact. It was founded by philanthropist George Soros. About a year ago, they engaged in two green projects. One which aim to protect an endangered forest outside of Port-au-Prince. Haitians have been working to clean the 48 acre plantation which used to belong to Napoleon’s sister in colonial times. More help is needed and certainly funds. Join us by supporting them via fokal-usa.org - thank you-

#7

What a distressing dilemma; my heart goes out to those people who live in the filth and strewn debris with no resources. Couldn’t they start with some (international infusion) for a small area and then widen the circle. Something has to be done. Perhaps plant bamboo trees, as an investment for the future. It’s overwhelming. Makes you count your blessings.

#6

thank you for the excellent new footage. while much of Haiti is dire, there is an alternative, but seldom-publicized story of widespread grassroots ecological restoration, education, health and hygiene, waste management, job creation and organizational savvy among native Haitians, Haitians abroad and friends of Haiti. this needs much more coverage. I will be happy to correspond with details. leiderman at mindspring dot com thank you again. Stuart Leiderman

#5

http://google.com

#4

Bill Perry Says:

They should destroy the whole country and start over… it’s not anyones fault but they’re own…can’t they burn garbage like the other poor countries or are they that stupid?????
IT’s always great to hear an idiots opinion but let’s give you the benefit of a doubt; maybe its just ignorance; at times of human suffering comments like these shouldnt even be posted.

#3

I hate that my haitians have to suffer in living poor. Many haitian are unemployed that they can not buy food and cleaning supply.The government must invest longterm planning of making the economy better in the future.

#2

They should destroy the whole country and start over… it’s not anyones fault but they’re own…can’t they burn garbage like the other poor countries or are they that stupid?????

#1

What can we do as individuals to improve the lives of Haitians? We have so much in America and we do take it for granted. Even in as we experience a recession, I am sure there are many people who would give. The report I saw hinted about government corruption. I want to help them but the problem seems so huge, they need food clothing, shelters, roads, schools, doctors, EVERYTHING. Who can you trust to deliver any contributions to the actual people who need the help?

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