Haiti and Deforestation

Tuesday, July 20, 2010 0 comments

100716_0_haiti trees.jpg

Disaster: Deforestation
Going since: 1492
Damage done: Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, as well as similar geographic and climate conditions. So why do severe storms and hurricanes -- not to mention earthquakes -- only cause horrific human tragedy on the Haitian side? One large reason is the almost complete destruction of Haiti's trees.
When explorer Christopher Columbus first landed in what was then dubbed Hispañola, around three-fourths of it was covered in trees. Today, 98 percent of its forests are gone -- one of the worst cases of deforestation in human history.
The main culprit is charcoal, by far the country's most popular fuel source, which consumes up to 30 million trees per year. The Dominican Republic has banned cutting down trees for charcoal and subsidized propane as a substitute, and the contrast can be seen in satellite photographs of the border.
Without roots to hold the soil together, hurricanes and earthquakes are much more likely to case deadly landslides. The erosion of high-quality topsoil has also devastated Haiti's agricultural sector, exacerbating its endemic poverty.
The list of challenges confronting Haiti following this year's earthquake is long and daunting, but if the country is ever going to stand a fighting chance, what it needs more than anything else is more trees.