As the title reads in Haitian Creole, “the soil is fatigued. Haiti is fatigued”. This is a clever way of expressing with a pun the reality that decades of overexploitation of Haiti’s soil has caused its population to suffer, especially immigrants, who are tired of being victims of racism and exclusion. Both topics sadly describe the reality in which Haitians are involved in, day after day.
“Its lands are high; there are in it very many sierras and very lofty mountains…all are accessible and filled with trees of a thousand kinds and tall, so that they seem to touch the sky. I am told that they never lose their foliage, and this I can believe, for I saw them as green and lovely as they are in Spain in May”. These were the words that Christopher Columbus wrote to the Catholic Kings when he discovered La Española in 1492, today’s Haitian land. Nowadays, Haiti holds the embarrassing honor of being ranked as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 80% of its population living under the poverty line (CIA World Factbook 2014). One of the main causes of such an “honor” is the lack of natural resources, whose scarcity makes the country dependent on foreign investment, an investment that Haiti cannot afford.
Haiti’s rank as the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and one of the poorest in the world has been directly linked to the degradation of its natural environment, especially, its soil. According to the Michigan Geographic Alliance, in 1900, 60% of Haiti was forested and today less than 2% of that land remains.
How did Haiti end up involved in such a pressing situation?
The primary cause of Haiti’s environmental degradation has been caused by their ever-growing need for energy. As of 2010 the electricity sector only covered 34% of the country’s population according to World Bank figures. With this lack of basic utility services, unfortunately, wood became the main energy source for Haitians and continues to be used frequently today. Wood fuel accounts for 75% of energy consumption, according to Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership data for 2013. Other causes explaining such an impressive deforestation process include the increase in population – which has naturally led to an increased demand for food and energy. The common method used for clearing land for wood fuel in Haiti is “slash and burn”, a destructive practice that quickly degrades the quality of soil while making it unusable in only a couple of years. Secondly, commercial farming – largely the result of French colonization in which much of the land in Haiti was cleared for coffee and sugar plantations. This was furthered by the aforementioned overuse of wood as energy that was needed to fuel the factories. This problem is compounded by a lack of sustainable choices – there is a general lack of understanding and virtually no sustainable initiatives are available for the people of Haiti (who lack even a basic education) to show them the importance of preserving their forests.
They are focused on covering their immediate needs of food and fuel without looking to their future needs (which cannot be ignored any longer) and wood is the cheapest source of fuel – available as charcoal that is made from the country’s remaining pine trees. There is very little oil or natural gas available in Haiti and it is not affordable since their economy has little goods or services to trade for it. Furthermore, the overexploitation of land in order to look for charcoal as an energy or income source became even worse after the US Oil Embargo of the late 1990s in Haiti.
What are the main consequences arising in Haiti due to deforestation?
Extinction and endangerment of species – 14 of 75 species of birds and 100 of 5,000 species of plants are in danger of extinction in Haiti as well as the forest itself.
Soil erosion – without the tree roots to hold it in place, precious topsoil is getting washed away.
Flooding – the danger of flooding is intensified because trees are not available for holding back the waters during the rainy season.
Landslides – the 2010 Earthquake’s catastrophic consequences were intensified because of the poor soil conditions that also boosted the destructive power of landslides, resulting in the endangerment of forests, human life and valuable farmland.
Air pollution – two important facts are linked to the deforestation phenomenon: 1.) oxygen levels have decreased because of the destruction of the forests and 2.) the increased air pollution caused by the already mentioned burning of charcoal.
Decline in tourism – what was once a tropical paradise is now a wasteland. There are very few tourist resorts, hotels or appealing places for touristic activities left to enjoy in Haiti.
What solutions are being considered for the present and future of Haiti’s development?
Replant and Deforestation Reduction Programmes are major solutions to the problem that is already being implemented. Haiti needs trees that can provide a sustainable income as well as produce roots and foliage that will help reduce some of the already mentioned effects of deforestation. The country needs an effective National Replant Programme, where organizations such as The Eden Project help to improve the environment while employing local villagers to plant trees. The extension of the United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD), including the Dominican Republic and Haiti, would be beneficial not only in reducing deforestation but also by contributing in cutting carbon emissions.
Develop easily obtained alternative energy sources – solar ovens and efficient bio-mass stoves prevent smoke inhalation from burning wood or charcoal while being able to reduce fuel use by 50%. In a country as poor as Haiti, this is a major and very attainable initiative that can be implemented with a minimal amount of aid.
Foreign government aid – this may take the form of loans, humanitarian aid, private business investment in sustainable tourism development, and education grants to promote sustainable agriculture programmes.
In conclusion, what is intended to be transmitted in this article is the importance of being sustainable in every aspect of our life. We have a finite planet with limited resources and Haitian deforestation is a good example of how easily those resources can disappear. The Hospitality Industry is in a unique position to be an important catalyst of sustainable and socially responsible programmes that work to preserve and protect the environment. The resources used by the travel & tourism industry in countries such as Haiti can and should be obtained through renewable and sustainable means to not only create a pleasurable experience for guests and travellers, but also to ensure that they are conscious of the positive impact their activities can have in contributing to the future of developing countries. Hence, environmental advocacy and awareness is vital for the future of Hospitality industry, as well as for the continued availability of those resources that we all should have a right to enjoy.