Sunday, September 7, 2008

Deforestation And Poverty Behind Haiti Flood Crisis

An Haitian boy stands at the door of a temporary shelter

PORT-AU-PRINCE (AFP) — With severe flooding, hundreds dead and hundreds of thousands lacking food and basic provisions, Haiti has been hit badly so far this hurricane season, with four severe storms in less than four weeks.

The Caribbean nation has suffered more than its neighbors, also lashed by major storms, in part because of severe deforestation and extreme poverty.

After Tropical Storm Fay and Hurricane Gustav in August, the poorest country in the Americas was devastated by Tropical Storm Hanna last week, and flooding was compounded Saturday night and Sunday when Hurricane Ike clipped the country's northern peninsula as it raged westward toward Cuba.

Damaged infrastructure and continuing rains left aid organizations struggling to bring emergency assistance to hundreds of thousands of storm victims.

About 600 people died in Haiti's recent storms, according to UN and government figures, and one million were affected. The storms also battered roads and bridges.

But many say the damage could have been reduced by better environmental planning.

"There's a real emergency. Measures should be taken to take to slow down the degradation of the environment in Haiti," said Joel Boutroue, representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

"With this rhythm of deforestation, we're up against a wall," Boutroue said, adding that the lack of tree cover contributes to poverty as well as provoking flooding.

The use of charcoal in most cooking in Haiti -- where some 70 percent live on less than two dollars per day -- has contributed to massive deforestation.

Wood is systematically cut for use as charcoal, in baking and for laundry, contributing to Haiti's environmental destruction.

Haiti's plant cover is estimated at less than two percent and recent heavy downpours led to severe flooding much worse than in the neighboring Dominican Republic, which shares the island of Hispaniola with Haiti.

Haitian Environment Minister Jean-Marie Claude Germain said a lack of proper agricultural planning dating back to the country's independence at the start of the 19th century contributed to the country's vulnerability.

"In neighboring Dominican Republic, plant cover is estimated at 30 percent and the army looks after the environment sector, contrary to Haiti where there's no environment policy," Germain said.

The country's geography compounds the problems: with 80 percent of Haiti covered by mountains, all kinds of hurricanes pose a threat, said meteorologist Ronal Semelfort.

Boutroue, an international aid coordinator, called on the Haitian government and international donors to invest in the environment and "act quickly" to rethink reforestation programs.

"They need to make changes now, pending significant government reforms," he said.

Source: AP.Org - Google.Com

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