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Haiti's Environment Needs Long-Term Help: Experts

Date: 20-Jan-10
Country: NORWAY
Author: Alister Doyle, Environment Correspondent

Haiti's Environment Needs Long-Term Help: Experts Photo: Jorge Silva
People rest in a makeshift refugee camp, where at least 50,000 people are staying, on the golf course in Port-au-Prince January 18, 2010.
Photo: Jorge Silva

OSLO - Long-term efforts to help Haiti recover from the earthquake will have to reverse environmental damage such as near-total deforestation that threatens food and water supplies for the Caribbean nation, experts say.

The focus is now on emergency aid -- Haitian officials estimate that between 100,000 and 200,000 people died in the January 12 quake. But President Rene Preval urged donors on Monday also to remember the country's long-term needs.

Experts say deforestation in Haiti stretching back to the Duvalier dictatorships -- leaving the nation with less than 2 percent forest cover -- contributes to erosion that undermines food output by the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

"We need to work...to create mechanisms that reinforce better use of natural resources," said Asif Zaidi, Operations Manager of the post-conflict and disaster management branch of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP).

Before the quake, UNEP had decided on a two-year project from 2010 to bolster Haiti's environment, from forests to coral reefs, spokesman Nick Nuttall said.

Among quick measures for donors could be to provide propane to encourage a shift from charcoal-burning stoves. That could be backed in the longer-term by reforestation and investments in renewable energies such as solar or wind power, Zaidi said.

"If you have forest cover, when heavy rain takes place it doesn't erode the land. It doesn't result in flash floods," he said. Hurricanes are more damaging in Haiti than in neighboring Dominican Republic, largely because of Haiti's lack of forests.

LAND RIGHTS

Another big problem is that Haiti has failed to develop strong governance, such as clear laws on land rights, after misrule under dictatorship from 1957 to 1986 by Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and his son, Jean-Claude "Baby Doc."

"It is crucial that the priority of boosting agricultural production in the country is not forgotten in the rubble and chaos," the U.N.'s Food and Agricultural Organization said in a statement. Most Haitians live in rural areas.

British-based risk consultancy Maplecroft lists Haiti as number two of 166 nations by their vulnerability to climate change, behind only Somalia and ahead of Afghanistan and Sierra Leone.

"What stands out most for Haiti is resource security -- food security and water security," said Fiona Place, risk analyst at Maplecroft of the ranking that rates countries according to their vulnerability to natural hazards, from droughts to floods.

Years of weak government were also a shortcoming.

Donors have long sought to help Haiti. But a project to plant trees worldwide, for instance, has largely bypassed Haiti.

A U.N.-backed campaign registers 7.8 billion planted trees -- more than one for every person on the planet. But it lists just 140,000 in Haiti which has a population of 10 million.

And Haiti, like many poor nations, has missed out on projects for promoting carbon-cutting technologies in developing nations that have channeled big investments to China and India as part of the fight against global warming.

(Editing by Charles Dick)

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