Haiti Archives 1995-1996
11/12/95 ENVIRONMENT-HAITI: Forests in Danger By Ives Marie Chanel

Copyright 1995 InterPress Service, all rights reserved. Worldwide distribution via the APC networks.

Port-au-Prince, Dec. 10 (IPS) – De-forestation in Haiti has reached catastrophic proportions and plant and animal species are becoming extinct in this country of seven million people, alarmed envirnmentalists say.

Forests that covered 37 percent of Haiti’s 28,000 square kilomteres up until 1978 now only amount to two percent of the land surface.

Environmentalists say the problem of the country’s forests has worsened over the last three years of political crisis during which the country also experienced an international commercial embargo and a deteriorating economy. The estimated income per capita was 431 dollars in 1980 and 341 dollars in 1989 dropping to 212 dollars in 1992 according to an analysis of the agricultural sector made in 1993 by the Interamerican Agricultural Institute (IICA).

These figures speak volumes of day to day life. In the Pine Forest, considered one of the most important in the country, there is a lettered sign whose message reads ‘’the forest you love.’’ The Ministery of Agriculture has now made preservation of this forest its major objective.

Within the forest, however, poor rural workers have cleared vast tracts of land for cattle raising, agriculture, or simply for wood to be used for heating or for charcoal to meet their basic needs.

This systematic deforestation intensified in 1987, a short time after the dictatorial regime of ‘’Papa Doc’’ Duvalier (1987-1986) collapsed. It began around 1980 due to the lack of jobs generated by ecological tourism and because of the loss of the Haitian Society of Agriculture Development (SHADA), in charge of the industrial development of the forests.

The most important cause of the deforestation has been the lack of job opportunities, said Abner a 25 year old worker.

Bernard Vernier, 47, a farmer born in the forest recalled: ‘’We used to workin modern sawmills, the company that exported the pine wood re-planted trees after cutting them. We also worked as tourist guides and we made money.’’

All that changed in the late 1980s and Vernier left his job to raise chickens.

Noiw, he says, if you ask local villagers why they fell trees, they will show you a knife or axe and threaten to kill you.

‘’Here we don’t care about anything. It is cold up here, and everybody knows that men and women come to this place only to make love and get pregnant out of the sight of their parents,’’ he said.

Even today there is little supervision in forest areas.

Tree clearing slowed down slightly after a 12-member unit of the U.S. Special Forces set up camp in the center of the forest, last May.

‘’We do what we can to prevent the forest clearing,’’ said Captain Ken Chavez, commanding officer of the group. ‘’Our presence here contributed to the decrease in cutting. We patrol it day and night. We arrest the truck drivers that take the wood to the city, and they must pay fines to the Haitian authorities. The problem is to educate the people and help them find other materials to use besides wood.’’

Chavez acknowledged that the situation of 20 Haitian forest rangers was ‘’difficult.’’ They barely earn the equivalent of 50 American dollars per month, have no other income and they complain they have not been been paid for the last seven months, he said.

The World Bank has said that next May it may be able to supply 20 million dollars over a 5 year period to finance a forestry protection project for the Pine Forest (30,000 hectares), considered one of the most important of Haiti, and two national parks.

The total cost of this project is estimated at 22 million dollars, of which 20 million could be financed by a credit of the Association for International Development, a branch of the World Bank, with 2 million matched by the local government.

The principal objective of this project, outlined in early studies by the Haitian agricultural ministry in 1989, will be to establish and protect the pine forest and two important national parks. (END/IPS/imc/pc/95)

Origin: Rome/ENVIRONMENT-HAITI/ ----

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