Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. It is a country of contrasts: beautiful scenery, breathtaking beaches, rich history, and many languages and dialects. The country has been hit hard by natural disasters, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, cholera, and earthquakes. Millions have been affected by these natural disasters, some more than others.
Haiti is a tropical Caribbean country that shares the Island of Hispaniola to its south with the Dominican Republic. Although it is still recovering from an earthquake, much of Haiti’s historic attractions, dating back to the early 1800s, remain intact. These include the spectacular Citadelle La Roudoire, a seven-mile-high mountain fortress, and Saint Souci Palace, a famed baroque palace. These natural disasters have devastated the landscape, but deforestation and environmental issues are the greatest threats to the sustainability of the country.
According to estimates, at least 90 percent of Haiti’s land area has been destroyed by or damaged by humans, with other forms of invasive species responsible for the rest. Much of this devastation has occurred in the past five years, during which time deforestation has increased dramatically. At the current rate of deforestation, it will not be long before half of the country is in danger of losing most of its lush tropical forest. This alarming trend highlights two environmental issues of great importance to governments and non-government organizations involved in Haiti relief and recovery: habitat loss and unsustainable land use.
Both of these environmental issues are being felt far beyond the coastal areas. Haiti is losing its primary forest, which supports most of the local food and farming communities. At the same time, there has been a worrying increase in the amount of forest loss and soil erosion in the southern part of the island. Satellite imaging indicates that over the last decade or so, a steady rate of deforestation has occurred in the vast majority of the eastern portion of Haiti, particularly in the Bajou Peninsula and in the south central Highlands. While the Dominican Republic has one of the lowest rates of deforestation in the world, it is being hit hard by the rapid rate of deforestation in Haiti.
Severe climate change is also being blamed for increasing environmental damage in both Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The rapidly melting of the snow caps in the north Atlantic Ocean is having a devastating effect on the forests of both countries. The increase in water levels in the ocean off the south-eastern coast of Haiti and the eastern side of the Dominican Republic have caused massive flooding and mudslides. Evidence has also been found of climate change effects in the form of decreased plant species diversity and declines in productivity in many tropical forest communities.
It is becoming increasingly apparent that the massive deforestation in the past decade in the central Highlands has had a negative impact on the tourism and eco-system in both of these countries. In Haiti the decline in forest cover has meant that the number of trees has declined by approximately forty percent over the last decade. The total area of forestation has been reduced by approximately one hundred eighty thousand acres, which is equivalent to about one percent of the total area of the nation. Similarly, in the Dominican Republic the impact of the rapid rate of deforestation in the last decade has meant that the volume of trees has declined by approximately forty percent. This translates into the reduced nutrients and oxygen in the atmosphere, threatening the very existence of many birds and animals that depend on clean-running streams and rivers for their survival.
One of the most important ways that the impact of deforestation in the Dominican Republic and Haiti can be reduced is by encouraging sustainable forestry growth. In the case of Haiti the main drivers of economic growth in the country are the ever-growing demand for coffee and cacao beans as well as the increasing need for agricultural products such as sugar, timber, and oil. Efforts by the Dominican Republic and Haiti to encourage sustainable forestry growth will go a long way towards addressing the problem of deforestation. It is hopeful that the efforts that are being made in both countries will be successful and that the threat of deforestation will become a thing of the past. If the success of these programs is combined with increased support from international organizations like the World Wildlife Fund and the Global Environment Working Group, then the fight against deforestation in both countries could be made a far more effective task.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic face an urgent necessity to halt the rate of deforestation. Less than one percent of the forested area in either country is actually owned by the private sector, meaning that the remaining forest has gone to encroachment by large-scale farmers and large-scale lumber companies. The governments of both countries must work together in order to ensure that these multinationals pay a price for cutting down the rainforest and other resources. It is hopeful that the two countries can work towards reducing their deforestation rates by one percent by the year 2021.