Haiti’s Sad Story
Haiti’s ecological situation is grave. Approximately 70% of Haiti is mountainous. This usually translates into the soil being hard to hold in place. Furthermore and even more detrimental, for every one tree that is planted, there are at least six more chopped down. At the beginning of the century, 60% of Haiti was covered with trees. As of today, a mere 2% of Haiti has trees. Haiti has been victim to uncontrolled logging and the conversion of forests into farmland. This has resulted into what can only be described as an epic environmental nightmare.
The major source of energy for many Haitians is wood, in the form of charcoal. Charcoal is accessible, easy to use and most importantly—inexpensive. For many of Haiti’s poor there is no alternative fuel source, therefore the deforestation goes on, causing an endless cycle of environmental pressures. Pressures that Haiti, a country that is already steeped in political and economical hardships, can hardly afford to sustain. The systematic deforestation of Haiti dates back to the 1600’s, French colonialists used African slaves to chop down trees in order to plant the sugar cane that would make Haiti the world’s largest producer of sugar. The production of the sugar required fuel, more wood was cut to fuel the sugar mills. Entire forests were shipped to Europe to make furniture of mahogany and dyes from cam peachy. Ironically, it is the increase in charcoal production that has lead to the declining soil fertility, resulting is low production of food crops which in turn has resulted in Haitian farmers resorting to charcoal crops as a means of guaranteeing cash income.
Over the past two decades, the charcoal and firewood consumption has more than doubled. 85 to 95% of Haiti’s energy for home and industrial use is provided by charcoal. Most Haitian people do not have access to electricity, therefore they burn tree-derived charcoal to cook in their out door kitchens. Even those few Haitians, who do have the means to have an indoor kitchen, also have an outdoor kitchen, choosing to have their food cooked outdoors, believing that their food tastes better when cooked on a charcoal stove. Convincing Haitian people that they should choose to cook, using another source of energy, is going to require a re-education of an entire country of people. No small undertaking. Cooking with charcoal is not only economical, but it also has deep cultural roots. In an effort to find a solution to the rapid deforestation of Haiti, government ministers have met to consider solutions ranging from importing propane or wood to increasing enforcement of the logging bans. Actually, Haiti, within Latin America and the Caribbean, has some of the best laws on record regarding preserving land and forests. However, due to lack of resources, these laws are rarely, if ever enforced. Thus the problem continues.