Environmental crisis in Haiti should be noticed

By Louinel Jean and Sandrale Schettini

After years of political unrest and leadership failures, the marginalization of rural life in Haiti is directly influenced by continued environmental neglect.

Mainstream outlets and social media discussions focus their attentions mainly on current political events that often devolve into heated debates driven by distortion. Meanwhile, civil discourse about environmental decay that could turn into actionable behavior for collective societal dignity is ignored. Instead, the Haitian population, directed toward endless political intrigue, grows increasingly ignorant about the real issues that impact its livelihood: the effects of deforestation, the neglect of soil care and water infrastructure and the dire consequence of global warming.

Haitians burn wood charcoal for 60 percent of their domestic energy production, according to the Energy Sector Management Assistance Program. Less than 2 percent of Haiti is forested, which has led to topsoil erosion. The country’s decreased agricultural yields has resulted in deadly landslides and mounting poverty. Left to take their course, these manmade disasters undermine the integrity of human life.

We need a more thoughtful approach to the complex societal problems that engulf Haiti. So far, a streamlining of social and environmental education is unlikely to supplant citizens’ mainstream focus on political debates. Is it any wonder that growing poverty, linked to food insecurity and desertification, is taking a heavy toll on the day-to-day lives in the hills, mountains and cities of Haiti?

While it is one thing to catalyze a specialized body of citizens to help sustain a Haitian democracy, it is yet another to help disseminate information to the wider public about how to reach the ideals of a democratic society. Democracy aspires to opportunity, to granting equitable access to resources and championing the importance of human rights.

Yet we have not been able to integrate the disparate dialogues into a cohesive narrative. Denying Haitians their right to education about the sustained development that is directly linked to the resources that meet their fundamental needs is tantamount to denying them life. People’s awareness on issues of environmental degradation, having reached the point of crises, is neglected. And yet the irony lies in the fact that it is hunger, as a whopping 67 percent of the population goes without food some days due to severe unemployment according to the World Food Program, as opposed to constant political maneuverings, which adversely affects Haiti’s citizens.

So far, deforestation, which is at the core of intergenerational misery, has not been addressed at any comparative rate to institutional politics both by national and international entities who seek to help stabilize Haiti. Haiti’s instability is a byproduct of its poverty. We cannot solve the problem by ignoring its roots. It is time to give more credence to the politics of environmental health than to the rise and fall of new leaders and whims of politicians.  We call for an effort to plug citizens in the conversation of environmental literacy while showing how it correlates to economic development, social wellbeing and welfare. The international community must seek to empower those grassroots initiatives that prioritize and address those goals practically.

Consider all the outpouring of support to Haiti in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. Why then did the issues detrimental to human life remain in place while, in fact, it did seem as if that event was an opportunity for a transformational tipping point? The answer lies in the many foreign and internal interests united in support of Haiti’s defective political culture instead of its strategic development. 

There’s money to be made in continued dysfunction. Many foreign donors are either unaware of or turn a blind eye to the pervasive corruption characterized by both governmental and international institutions. Together, they form a symbiotic system that pays lip service to Haiti’s fundamental social problems, calling for quick-fix relief aid when disaster strikes. With this kind of band-aid approach, can you wonder at the cumulative negative effect produced when one dire consequence is ignored only to set off a chain of subsequent catastrophes? It is important to engage the global citizenry, to help spread this positive civic virus, pushing it to the level of an epidemic.

Louinel Jean and Sandrale Schettini are members of the group Each One Plant One, an organization that promotes reforestation in Haiti and advocates against environmental pillage. Jean is the leader of the organization.