From Sun Nov 10 13:14:36 2002
Date: Sun, 10 Nov 2002 10:40:51 -0600 (CST)
From: Bob Corbett <>
To: Haiti mailing list <>
Subject: 13620: Vedrine: Haiti & the destruction of nature (article) (fwd)

From: E Vedrine <>

Haiti and the destruction of nature

By Emmanuel W. Vedrine, 10 November 2002

One of the differences between Haiti and the Dominican Republic lies in the ecological color of the two republics. Haiti is brown, the Dominican Republic is green.

Has anyone documented the rate of extinction of our bird species?, asks Guy Antoine (webmaster of Windows on Haiti) in one of his discussions on the ecological concerns of Haiti. Most of the birds in Haiti have migrated to the Dominican Republic. The Haitian peasants cross the border; so do the birds. Why? Deforestation, no vegetation, and poor agriculture.

My novel, Sezon sechrès Ayiti (Season of drought in Haiti) covers part of the ecological problem where peasants cut down trees to make charcoal (for cash) because of the absence of other cash-crops. Charcoal constitutes 80% of energy use in Port-au-Prince. We have had a lack of electricity in the capital city for many decades, an example of a problem that has not been solved in spite of the fact that we have engineers and technicians in Haiti. So, people rely on the burning of charcoal for their energy needs, not only in Port-au-Prince, but also throughout the country.

Dr. Gerald Murray, a well-known scholar and anthropologist who lived in Tomazo, Haiti for ten years, has addressed the ecological problems of Haiti in some of his published papers. With some foreign organizations, he participated in the planting of 1 million trees in Haiti almost two decades ago. Yet, in a lecture at the University of Massachusetts-Boston in the early 1980’s, he mentioned that it is a sad fact that people later cut down some of those very trees to make charcoal—even those which were fruit-bearing. Why did they do so? Because they didn’t have a choice; they could no longer rely on agriculture; it’s so poor, no irrigation, most of them don’t have land to work, no machinery.

Is this crucial problem just an ecological one or does it also have something to do with politics? Mentioning the word politics has become part of the culture in Haiti. Most Haitians say Mwen pa nan politik or to make it funny, Mwen pa nan polutik (I am not in politics), part of the legacy of the 30-year Duvalier regime.

I have read about the ’plastic bottle’ problem on an on-line Haitian forum. I am not saying that it is not an important issue (recycling is important), but I would urge any forums on Haiti to comment on some of the deeper problems that Haiti has been facing (such as ecology, erosion, agriculture, anything destroying the nature of Haiti).

I was born and grew up in a small village in southern Haiti. I thought I was living in a paradise when I was young. Although there were no angels flying around, I could see many different types of birds, within just a one-minute walk from my house I could see three flowing rivers, the mountains were green and the people had enough food to eat. I could enjoy nature as a part of my surroundings. We had some dogs (giving us security on a 24-hour basis), goats, pigs, chickens and other domestic animals in our back yard. I considered them to be my friends and, although they could not talk to me; they would look at me, come over to smell me, etc. In a way, I felt a sort of communication between us. And I would cry when they were sold or killed -- some of them.

When I visited my village in 1980 (the last time), it was all brown. No vegetation. Most of the trees I used to see as a boy had been cut down. The birds had left the village. No place to build their nests or for them to rest. No rainfall. The rivers were almost all dried out. My neighbors had moved to other areas. Some had gone to Port-au-Prince for a better life; many people I knew (young and old) had died. My village is like a desert and I believe this same dynamic has occurred in many other places in Haiti.

If the Haitian government does not soon take these problems seriously (ecology and agriculture), it won’t matter how many beautiful ideas we suggest for the development of Haiti (such as emphasizing the tourist industry, investment, better schools, free schools, literacy, roads, so on and so forth); it will be too late. In fact, these are all great ideas for the country’s future. But if we leave ’agriculture’ and ’ecology’ behind, Ayiti pap fè yon pa kita, yon pa nago (Haiti won’t budge a step forward).

Agricultural development should be a #1 priority for advancement of Haiti’s prospects. One does not need to be an economist to understand the importance of agriculture. Let ’recycling’ come later. People in Haiti can’t eat bottles or cans when they are hungry. Haitian peasants need land to work, they need water to irrigate their plots of land, they need to grow whatever they can to eat and to support their family, using money from the sale of their excess produce to purchase other necessities of life.

To conclude, developing agriculture throughout Haiti would be one of the best answers to stop Haitian peasants from crossing the border to the Dominican Republic (illegally or legally; thereby, supporting the black market behind this trade) and would be one of the most important steps in changing Haiti’s face. Our peasants would then not need to migrate to the pollution of Port-au-Prince to look for jobs, staying in line for hours in front of a factory just to kiss someone’s boots for a job that does not even pay them $4 a day. Nor would they need to keep on risking their lives on the high seas to reach the Bahamas or Miami in order to live a better life.

I would urge every single Haitian who reads this essay to take a moment to think about their village, town, city or community in Haiti. Support organizations (like the Pandiassou model we read about on the Bob Corbett Haiti List) which are involved in development projects in Haiti. Think of how you can do something for your community with people from the same place in Haiti who now live in the diaspora. Get together, discuss the problem of the people in your native community in Haiti and what you can do to help.

Are you a doctor, teacher, nurse, engineer, businessman, educator, teacher, whatever...? Who are you? What can you do to help your own town, city, or village in Haiti? Does your village, town, or city have one of the following: a clinic, a hospital, a library, an elementary school, a high school, a library, a funeral home, a bank, a church, a bakery...? What can you name that it does not have? How many kids there go to school? Those who don’t go to school, find out why they can’t and how you could help some of them. Visit your native city, village, or town when you visit Haiti. Don’t just enjoy going to the beach or to the clubs. Show the people of your community that you are with them, that you are part of them, that you are connected with them in spirit, show them a sort of solidarity, ask them what they need, what they would like to have in their community (even if you can’t provide all that they need). Take notes, take a tape recorder with you to record whatever they say and share these recordings with friends, people who are willing to help your community. I have hope that Haitians abroad together with those at home can save Haiti in the 21st century. They just have to believe in the potential of what they can do (no matter how little it may be in their eyes or in the eyes of others, but they should be proud of their accomplishment) to change the face of Ayiti Cheri (Haiti my darling).