Earthquake Highlights Haitian Deforestation
Haiti is 97 percent deforested, according to a New York Times video shot before the earthquake hit. In fact, Haiti is one of the most deforested countries in the world, not to mention the poorest in the hemisphere. A National Geographic article highlighted a problem that could arise for the hillside region around Port-au-Prince: landslides. As the article points out, as trees have disappeared in Haiti, landslides “have become a major concern.”
Even though this is dry season in Haiti, the hillside region around the capitol could still suffer from landslides. “It’s where foothills are that the worst landslides will occur,” said Mark Ashton, a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said. “That’s also where people tend to build their houses.”
The National Geographic article says the “destruction of Haiti’s natural forests is almost total.” Satellite photos reveal the difference in regards to forests between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. According to a case study on Haitian deforestation, flying over the border between the two countries, “the border appears like it was drawn by an acetylene torch owing to massive deforestation in Haiti.”
After Hurricane Hazel hit in 1954, deforestation accelerated in Haiti. Logging increased as a response to the capitol’s “intensified demand for charcoal.” Deforestation had already been a problem prior to 1954. Last summer, the Haiti Reforestation Act of 2009 was introduced into the U.S. Senate. According to the research done prior to introducing the Act, 60 percent of Haiti was forested in 1923, but by 2006 only two percent of the land was forested. During 2000 to 2005, the deforestation rate increased by over 20 percent from the previous nine years (1990 top 1999).
The Haiti Reforestation Act authorizes the Secretary of Agriculture to provide assistance to the Haitian government to stop deforestation within five years, and restore the tropical forest cover within 30 years that existed in 1990. The last action taken in regards to the Act was referring it to the Foreign Relations Committee. The Act would create a grant program to stop deforestation.