Sunday, January 24, 2010

After the earthquake: Haiti's deforestation needs attention

From the Christian Science Monitor -- 1/20/10 
Ever since a 7.0 magnitude earthquake hit Haiti a week ago -- the most powerful to strike in 200 years -- stories of the extraordinary damage and suffering wrought by the disaster have [rightfully] dominated airwaves and front pages around the country.  The coverage and the outpouring of aid that followed have, for the time being, focused international attention on the country's poverty and vulnerability to disasters just like this, hopefully to lasting effect.
But somewhat overshadowed in all this activity is one of Haiti's longer term, but nonetheless serious, problems.
The island nation suffers from one of the highest rates of deforestation in the world. This is troubling for a number of reasons. The loss of nearly all its trees promises to amplify how dramatically earthquakes, hurricanes, and other periodic natural occurrences impact Haitians, to say nothing of deforestation's impoverishing legacy of erosion and climate change on local scale (less moisture). Without trees holding the soil in place, a heavy rain — let alone a hurricane or an earthquake — can easily cause mudslides on the island's steep slopes.
Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the same island in the Caribbean — Hispaniola. Both countries are at the same latitude and, generally speaking, the same climatic conditions prevail.
But one country, the Dominican Republic, has lush forests. The other, Haiti, is almost completely brown and bare. The stark difference is visible from high above — one side green and full of foliage, the other bare.
Here's a photo from NASA and another from a National Geographic story in the 1980s.

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