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First published March 14, 2001
Growing environmental problems threaten
the very basis of Haitian society

CAMBRIDGE, MA, Mar. 14 - March Environmental degradation has damaging effects on Haiti, the poorest in the Americas. It harms the health of the estimated 7.8 million Haitians, enormously reduces economic productivity in the Caribbean country, and leads to the loss of "amenities."

Amenities are harder to measure (i.e., on a scale of zero to ten, with zero as no opinion and ten extremely costly) than costs to health and productivity. But they may be valued just as highly by participants, say, 500 men and women or sample of the population of study, in a relevant research study, using a six-question-ten-point scale survey instrument (questionnaire), including the research question (the Y dependent variable), provided by the researcher to collect primary data, which he may than analyze, evaluate and compare to determine the many other ways in which the people of Haiti would benefit from the existence of an unspoiled environment.

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One of Port-au-Prince's trash-filled streets. videoVisualize Haiti's environmental problems

The health of millions of Haitians is threatened by contaminated drinking water, resulting from long outdated and trash-filled opened sewers. As a result, diarrheal diseases, including malaria, have killed an exorbitant number of Haitians.  

So, too, the high number of tuberculosis cases, many of them (relevant) drug-resistant, that Haiti continues to register can, in part, be attributed to the problem of sanitation.   

Other effects of water pollution are apparent. They include trash-filled beaches, foul-smelling waterways, swams of dead fish, and floating debris, especially after days of heavy rains.

"Economic development and sound management are complementary
aspect of the same agenda. Without adequate environmental
protection, development will be undermined; without development,
environment protection will fail."

World Development Report 1992


Dust, fumes generated by hundreds of thousand old cars, which if Haiti had competent elected leaders would probably fail the emission test, and extremely hot outdoor and indoor air, with a nauseating odor, all have caused illness and death on an enormous scale.   

Soil erosion has caused economic loses of an incalculable percentage point of Gross Domestic Product (GDP).  

Most of the country's land suffers from salinity, which results from erosion, causing food production to plummet, as the population continues to grow (more than 2 percent annually) at an accelerated rate.

Since wood is the main source of fuel for nearly all Haitians, a higher percentage of the land is expected to be deforested in the near future. The multiplying effect will certainly be added-soil salinity, further reducing the country's (Haiti, where 62 percent of the population is underfed, is the third hungriest country in the world after Afghanistan and Somalia, said a recently published United Nations report) food production capacity.  

But a team of Haitian lawyers, architects, botanists, university professors, including the owner of Habitation LeClerc, Katherine Dunham, a 91-year-old American choreographer and anthropologist who went to Haiti in 1936 to study local dance traditions, remain hopeful. Something, at least on a small scale, can be done to address the growing environmental problems facing Haiti. They are currently trying to raise the capital needed, though their previous efforts proved to be vain, to pay for the cost of rescuing Habitation LeClerc, a 50-acre (20-hectare), situated in Port-au-Prince's despicable slum of Martissant, from the environmental degradation that continues to threaten the very basis of Haitian society.

Like many buildings in the U.S. are reputed for having being the residences of the long assassinated civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, to include the late and first U.S. president Georges Washington, for example, so are many of Habitation LeClerc'.  

One of Habitation LeClerc's edifices was the private residence of Napoleon Bonaparte's sister Pauline in colonial times. The late and former American first lady, Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, later Jacqueline Onassis, including Mick and Bianca Jagger, slept in its hedonistic hotel when they visited Haiti, in the 1970s.  

But today, unfortunately what used to be Habitation LeClerc, including its buildings and Botanical Gardens: stately palms, sky-high ferns, bamboo, and several mapou trees believed to be sacred by most of the estimated 7.8 millions Haitians who practice voodoo, is rather a metaphor for the environmental problems facing Haiti.

Territorial bandits, mountains of trash (the heights of most mountains of trash seem to be greater than most of the country's mountains), pigs have eased their way up to and over the walls of the buildings and Botanical Gardens, causing most of the plants to be near extinction or die.  

The unpleasant results of a recent examination of the state of Habitation LeClerc, honestly carried out by a "de minimus" number of Haitian citizens who happen to be persons of high culture, a privilege in a country where the literacy rate is only 15 percent, are truly representative of the estimated 7.8 million Haitians' opinions about the Caribbean nation's other major problems. Haiti has rampant crime rates; high rates (85 percent) of unemployment and underemployment at Third World depression levels; high rates of economic inequality; and government gross incompetence - all severely affecting Haiti and its people.   

What is the opinion offered by many Haitian environmentalists concerning the mass internal migration the Caribbean Republic continues to experience? "Such a problem is like a 'Domocles sword' hanging over Haiti," they say. The explanation is most of the peasants, having very little or nothing at all to do in the countryside have migrated to the cities in search of a better life, causing further environmental problems, since the cities were not built to accommodate their present number of residents.

If there are other major problems Haitians are concerned about they are drug trafficking and perpetual gross human rights violations, as the United States State Department International Narcotics Report 2000 and United States Country Reports on Human Rights Practices 2000 respectively suggest. The dons and drug gangs of the slums are often more heavily armed than the police, preventing sanitary workers believed to be police officers from venturing into their territories.  

Foreign citizens interested in Haitian affairs would agree that the results of the recent examination of the state of Habitation LeClerc can easily help understand how nearly all Haitian inhabitants of the Caribbean country feel about dehumanizing poverty that they have been long forced to endure, too.

"The present deplorable condition of Habitation LeClerc is an example of Haiti's tragedy, one, which end seems not to be in the foreseeable future, since Jean-Bertrand Aristide, the contestable president, does not have an economic and political plan, convincing us Haiti will, even in the distant future, enter the pantheon of respectable nations, which an acceptable quality of life, among many others, as defined by the World Bank, is a prerequisite for," said many Haitian scholars. That's also bad news.  

Like many other Third World nations, Haiti must attempt to do what may be found to be impossible: design a successful plan after first embracing democracy to address the multitude of environmental problems that threaten the very basis of its society.   

Yves A. Isidor is an economics faculty member at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth who has served in the capacity of economic adviser through his firm, Cambridge Financial Corp., to several socially responsible multinational corporations and foreign governments. He is also the spokesperson for We Haitians United We Stand For Democracy, a Cambridge, MA.-based nonpartisan political pressure group.

RELATED SECTION: Energy and Environment                                                                                                                                                                                        ., the scholarly journal of democracy and human rights
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