A FIRST-HAND PERSPECTIVE:
HAITI’S DEFORESTATION & ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS
Richard E. Helgemo
President, Three Angels Childr...
DEFORESTATION
Haiti’s Deforestation is Near Complete
It is estimated that 98% of Haiti’s forests are already gone. The rem...
The other noteworthy observations go hand-in-hand. Most of the land between Port-au-Prince and
Jeremie is already devoid o...
We were told that even the “protected land” located in Grande Anse is being deforested at night and
that the local governm...
The Tipping Point
Current estimates are that approximately 70-80% of all food is cooked using charcoal. Even the gov-
ernm...
amount of food. Though the price of propane does vary, it is not significant enough to nullify the
savings. Currently, a ga...
Other Environmental Concerns and Observations
Port-au-Prince is a very densely-populated city that has no public waste wat...
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Haiti Deforestation - A Short Update

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This is a very informative, if tragic, report on the deforestation in Haiti by Richard E. Helgemo, President, Three Angels Children’s Relief.

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Haiti Deforestation - A Short Update

  1. 1. A FIRST-HAND PERSPECTIVE: HAITI’S DEFORESTATION & ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS Richard E. Helgemo President, Three Angels Children’s Relief F I E L D R E P O R T October 13, 2012 www.ThreeAngelsHaiti.org 91 De lmas #19, Pétion-ville, Haiti W.I. • t e l e p h o n e: 001.509.31.70.66.50 • email: ehelgemo@gmail.com
  2. 2. DEFORESTATION Haiti’s Deforestation is Near Complete It is estimated that 98% of Haiti’s forests are already gone. The remaining woodlands are being re- moved at a rate of 30% a year. I had a chance to witness this firsthand on a recent five-day road trip from Port-au-Prince to Jeremie. Jeremie lies in the south west province of Grand Anse which is con- sidered the last “green zone” in Haiti. During the ten-hour drive, the single most notable feature that could be observed at almost any location along the way was the massive deforestation of what should have been flourishing tropical slopes. For more about deforestation in Haiti: http://www.metropolehaiti.com/metropole/full_poli_fr.php?id=17422 - Three Angels Children’s Relief!Field Report 1
  3. 3. The other noteworthy observations go hand-in-hand. Most of the land between Port-au-Prince and Jeremie is already devoid of trees. It is clear how this has happened. The people cut the trees until they were gone and then moved a little further along until they found a new location to cut. These people are now living in the outskirts of Jeremie and are cutting their way through what is left. Bor- der villages are where I noted the greatest number of deforesting activity. Almost nothing was sa- cred. We witnessed the removal 70 + year old mango trees, still producing fruit, being cut down to make charcoal. The Dependency on Charcoal Charcoal is created by chopping up trees into small chunks, piling them up and lighting them on fire. The fire is then suppressed by covering and smothering it. The smoke-heated chunks of wood are then blackened to a depth of approximately 1/8”. The result is a terribly inefficient form of char- coal which is used by an estimated 70% of Haitian people for cooking food and heating water. Char- coal is a major commodity among local people throughout the country. On our trip we passed numerous trucks loaded sky-high with sacks of charcoal headed for Port-au- Prince. In the border towns it appeared that every other person was engaged in some type of char- coal production. Numerous people walking or riding on motorcycles had machetes in their hands. Even many children could be seen with machetes. I noted many smoking piles and pits burning charcoal. People had turned the once beautiful forest into charcoal for cooking and sales. I counted no less than 600 sacks of charcoal piled up along the roads waiting for transport to the market. I was told that the sacks were “big money” for the local population who cut the trees for a living. A single sack regularly brings $7 US and sometimes, when supplies are low, as much as $15 US. It is no great mystery why they continue to cut the trees. The average daily wage for Haitian workers ranges be- tween $2-$5 US (though the official minimum wage is set at $5, this is not usually adhered to nor enforced). - Three Angels Children’s Relief!Field Report 2
  4. 4. We were told that even the “protected land” located in Grande Anse is being deforested at night and that the local government is too understaffed and ill-equipped to stop it. We were also told that Hai- tians are often shot and killed by Dominican neighbors for crossing the borders in order to cut down trees to make charcoal for sale in Haiti. As noted in USAID’s 2007 study, Environmental Vulnerability in Haiti: Findings and Recommendations, the average life span in Haiti is estimated to be shortened by 6.6 years due to the effects of indoor air pollution caused by burning charcoal indoors. Acute Lower Respiratory Illness is the number one killer of children under five in Haiti. In addition, this method of cooking in an enclosed structure, which is typically done near the floor, is dangerous for children and results in frequent and severe burns. IMPLICATIONS Implications and Impressions The high level of deforestation has resulted in numerous floods and unmitigated erosion of hun- dreds of millions of tons of nutrient-rich native topsoils. Stripped hillsides are transformed by ero- sion into rocky or sandy wastelands incapable of supporting new vegetation and trees, let alone ag- ricultural food crops. Every year people are killed in landslides, mud slides, and flooding. Count- less numbers of native species of birds, mammals, and other creatures vanish as their habitat is de- stroyed. One of my first impressions while living in Haiti was that of, “Where are all the birds?” It’s a rarity to hear a bird sing or even see a native bird flying around. - Three Angels Children’s Relief!Field Report 3 Charcoal pits On the way to market Cooking with charcoal
  5. 5. The Tipping Point Current estimates are that approximately 70-80% of all food is cooked using charcoal. Even the gov- ernment cooks on charcoal stoves for many of its facilities. What happens when all the trees are gone? If nothing changes, the demand for charcoal will skyrocket to the point where the poor will not be able to afford it to cook their daily staples of rice and beans. The situation will become desperate and deforestation of street trees and even less desirable charcoal trees will be burned by the poor to cook their food. Recently, a series of public protests took place just outside of Port-au-Prince in Leo- gane, Carrefour and other locations. Citizens complain that it’s becoming too expensive to feed their families, and they want the government to subsidize, or somehow reduce the price of charcoal. RECOMMENDATIONS The Sea of Ignorance One easily accessible alternative to cooking with charcoal is to utilize clean, energy-efficient propane. Is charcoal cooking less expensive than cooking with propane? Do we need to subsidize propane to get Haitians to make the switch and stop the deforestation of Haiti? In my experience the answer to both of these questions is a resounding “NO!” The majority of Haitians do not have a very basic under- standing of simple economics. Decisions are based on perceptions and public pressure. Over the years, they have always been told that propane is too expensive, and that it’s dangerous to use. At one point it might have been much more expensive, but not today. After interviewing several families living here in Port-au-Prince, I found that it takes the average family (3-5 people) 3 small buckets of charcoal to cook a day’s worth of meals. These small bucket- sized portions sell for an average of 25 Gourdes or $ .60 each. Therefore, the average family cooking on charcoal stoves spends $8.50 to $12.50 a week on fuel to cook for their families. By comparison, families of equal or even larger size, take about 1 gallon of propane per week to cook the same - Three Angels Children’s Relief!Field Report 4
  6. 6. amount of food. Though the price of propane does vary, it is not significant enough to nullify the savings. Currently, a gallon of propane costs 105 Gourdes, or $2.56 US. To cook with charcoal costs $34-$50 a month as compared to $10.24 US to cook with clean, energy-efficient propane. The average family switching to propane would experience a savings of $23 to $40 US a month, or 70-80%! With family incomes amongst the poor in Port-au-Prince averaging $100 to $300 a month, this is an enor- mous benefit. FAMILY OF 3-5, PRICES AS OF 10/2012FAMILY OF 3-5, PRICES AS OF 10/2012FAMILY OF 3-5, PRICES AS OF 10/2012 CHARCOAL 14-21 Small Buckets per Week PROPANE 1 Gallon per Week SAVINGS (approximate) $8.50 - $12.60 / week $2.56 / week $5.94 - $10.00 / week $34 - $50.40 / month $10.24 / month $23.76 - $40.16 / month What About the Cost of Upgrading to Propane? We have found small, single-burner propane stoves which are mounted over a one-gallon refillable propane tank, selling for just over $1,200 Gourdes or $30 US. Larger three-burner stoves with de- tached regulators and five-gallon refillable tanks can be purchased for $65 US. This means the aver- age family could purchase the stove and tank out of the first month’s savings without significant fi- nancial up front investment. What is the Answer? Something has to change. It will take more than legislation. Simply planting more trees will not work. The UN estimates that 30 million trees are cut down every year. Being a tree expert, I can tell you that most of the trees planted as saplings will not make it to maturity. They will be eaten by livestock, die of natural causes, or be cut down before they are established as mature trees. A simple start would be an educational push and public awareness campaign. Community meetings could easily be facilitated to educate families on the benefits of cooking with propane as compared to charcoal, as well as focusing on the safety of utilizing propane and the negative environmental/ health effects of cooking with charcoal. This effort should be followed up after a few years of suc- cessful transition to propane by enforceable regulations concerning the cutting of trees for use of manufacturing charcoal. Fines could be levied to generate income to pay for enforcement of the regulations. A major 25 year reforestation plan should be put into place. It will take NGO, church, government, and world influence to carry out this vision, but it is possible. - Three Angels Children’s Relief!Field Report 5
  7. 7. Other Environmental Concerns and Observations Port-au-Prince is a very densely-populated city that has no public waste water sewer system or treatment plants to deal with the effluent generated by its estimated one-million residents. As such, it is not an uncommon sight to see untreated raw sewage, easily identified by its sulfurous odor and grey color, flowing down the street gutters or into the public rivers surrounding city areas. This un- sanitary situation provides the perfect habitat for contaminating fresh water sources with Cholera, E- coli and other water-borne bacterias. City water systems and departments need to be established and funded to ensure adequate, clean water supplies exist. Public water sources need to be monitored and maintained to prevent out- breaks of disease resulting from bacterial infestations. The practice of burning garbage has to be made illegal, and sanitation systems need to replace the current over-burdened waste disposal methods. Inappropriate disposal and burning of caustic ma- terials is contributing to major health problems of the populous. Public-service programs should be put in place to encourage proper disposal of garbage, while educating citizens about the benefits of recycling. The combination of air contamination from dust, smog, and burning debris poses major health risks to the developing children in particular, and the populous as a whole. There are other environmental issues to address but these are, in my opinion, the most pressing. I do not see the value of addressing the others, which are all greatly affected by the above-mentioned concerns. Why even begin to talk about preserving vanishing native species of animals when the environment to support them is being destroyed? At this point we just need to stop the bleeding. A) I hope this information is helpful, and pray that its message will be shared with those who are in positions to make a difference and affect these changes. Thank you, Eric Helgemo President, Three Angels Children’s Relief ehelgemo@gmail.com - Three Angels Children’s Relief!Field Report 6

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