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Date: Tue, 16 Jul 1996 09:25:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: Yacine Khelladi <yacine@funredes.org>
To: cangonet@yorku.ca, LISTA MEDIO AMBIENTE <madredo@yorku.ca>
Cc: haiti-l@conicit.ve
Subject: Haiti Forests Degradation
Message-Id: <Pine.SOL.3.93.960716092353.29803D-100000@funredes.org>
Sender: owner-haiti-l@conicit.ve

Haiti: Environmental degradation deepens

By Elizabeth Bryant, Earth Times News Service, 8 July 1996

The scrubby green mountains welcoming a visitor to Haiti tell it all.

From the ground, they throw cool shadows over the Caribbean and cities like Port-au-Prince, a mirage of lushness. But from an airplane, the green gives way to deep, sand-colored gouges of erosion and a mediterranean sparseness unsuited to this tropical island.

Less obvious are the dozens of environmental projects that have sprung up in recent years. Some, like a four-year, $30 million natural resource project sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development, are massive. Others, like the tiny tree nurseries sprouting atop the mountainside community of Buteau, about 60 miles south of Port- au-Prince, are minuscule.

But increasingly, environmentalists are looking at grassroots conservation, rather than government-sponsored efforts, as the key to Haiti's future. They criticize the Haitian government and the international community for not doing enough, and for pegging environmental issues to political self interest.

We're only in the beginning of the environmental fight, said Emile Eyma, Head of IRATAM, a private environmental and development think-tank based in Port-au-Prince. And that doesn't mean that millions haven't already been spent on the environment and erosion control--especially by international organizations.

Each year, the country's 7 million inhabitants burn the equivalent of 30 million trees--20 million more than the country grows annually. Forests have shrunk from covering 80 percent of Haiti's lands several hundred years ago, to only 3 percent today.

Deforestation stepped up during the international trade embargo, between 1991-1994, as people burned trees for the fuel they could no longer import. Haiti's exploding population growth hasn't helped either. Strapped for cash and burdened by innumerable needs, the government has not placed a major emphasis on conservation. Only $300,000 has been earmarked for the environment in Haiti's 1995-1996 budget--only about .17 percent of the government's overall budget.

The government has a lot of priorities and the environment isn't one of them, Eyma said.

For their part, large-scale international efforts have ebbed and flowed with the tides of Haitian politics. During the trade embargo, many environmental programs ground to a halt.

If change is to come, Eyma and other experts say, it will come through efforts of Haitians like Marcel Kercelin, whose nine-year toil to reforest his hillside farm have yielded small green groves of fruit and hardwood trees and two neat tree nurseries of potted mango, eucalyptus and palm. This is desolate ground, Kercelin said, surveying the steep hills climbing skyward and crisscrossed with small farms. That's why I started planting.

Kercelin is a member of Solidarity Forest, a newly-established grassroots organization that has captured the attention of the Haitian government and international donors. Formed last year by members of a local farmers cooperative, the fledgling environmental group aims to reforest southern Haiti's desolate hills.

So far, membership has been limited to the environs of the small Buteau community in southern Haiti, with funds coming from Episcopal churches in Haiti and the US, along with other private donations. But eventually, its members hope, the project will spread to other parts of Haiti as well.

At a recent meeting, a handful of forestry leaders gathered on the mountaintop church in the Buteau community to report their successes to Stephen Davenport, an Episcopal priest visiting from the US, armed with fresh funding from American churches.

You have enough money for 3,000 trees, said Davenport, who has been visiting the community for over two decades. The budget, the type of trees are your decision.

Davenport is among a number of development experts with faint praise for top-down environmental projects. People would say 'oui, oui, oui'--which doesn't mean yes, it just means I hear you, he said of the general response to these efforts. Then the money goes away and the projects get covered by weeds.

Solidarity Forest is not the only project up and running in Buteau. The village has also set up a revolving loan fund for women's businesses, again fueled by church dollars.

The mix of income-generation and environmental conservation is critical, many experts say. It is a link, they say, that many development workers fail to make.

Many organizations just haven't addressed poverty concerns, said Lydia Williams of Oxfam America. Peasants know they shouldn't cut down a tree, but if they need to cook food they'll do it. They know they shouldn't farm on mountains, but if they need to eat they'll do it.