De-forestation: Haiti’s largest ecological disaster & a nonprofit’s mission for change

By Anthony Martinez Beven

The effect on the environment has been “tremendous,” Edward Rawson said of the de-forestation problem in Haiti. Rawson heads up Haiti Friends, a grass roots movement and nonprofit aimed at bringing global attention to this major environmental concern.

“The top soils are severely depleted, the country has vastly turned to desert. Mountains lay barren and hot with little soil to support much farming beyond farming corn in the rainy season. The top soil also washes into the rivers, canals, and the sea causing further destruction to the already fragile ecosystem,” Rawson said.

To address the problem, Haiti Friends provides education and seedlings to farmers. “Collectively, we are implementing practices of agroforestry; building rock walls to slow erosion; creating compost; improving the top soil; growing timber trees to hold the soil; and planting high-value crops between the trees,” Rawson noted.

So, when did it all begin? Dawson said the causes of de-forestation in Haiti are attributable to: The French exportation of timber throughout the 19th century to pay off a $90 million Franc indemnity to France; in the early 1900s, during the U.S. occupancy, lumber concessions were given to U.S. lumber corporations; natural disasters, in particular Hurricane Hazel in 1954; cutting down trees to use for charcoal; and environmentally unsound agricultural practices. 

Adding to the problem, Rawson said, is “heavy rains and no trees, which means desertification of Haiti’s mountains. Haiti’s national dependency on charcoal for cooking. And, rapid population growth, and increased competition.”

Haiti Friends, through art, expands awareness of the culture of the Haitian people, and their economic and ecological needs, while improving the environmental conditions in Haiti, according to the nonprofit’s website. 

“By sharing and selling Haitian artwork to people in the U.S., the Friends has shown that artwork is a meaningful tool that might be used to put a human face on the complex problems of a troubled country,” the site reads.

Rawson said Haiti Friends is also affiliated with the Hospital Albert Schweitzer (HAS) in the Artibonite Valley of Haiti. He said one of the root causes of poverty in the island country is “degraded land” and “harsh conditions” farmers live in. “Our program has been designed to directly improve the environmental conditions of the mountains while also improving economic conditions for farmers.” 

Regarding de-forestation in Haiti, Rawson said people can’t be informed enough. “So many people are unaware of how the lack of trees are making people suffer in Haiti. We can reverse this problem in our lifetime. If we can work together and plant 120+ million trees in Haiti, the country will be reforested,” he said.

To date, Haiti Friends has planted two million trees and is on target to plant another half a million in 2016. In addition, the nonprofit is gaining attention from national and international governments, and is creating strategic partnerships with other nonprofits like HAS.

“We can improve this country; save it from poverty; restore its ecosystem. Haiti is an amazing resilient place, and we can help restore it to the ‘Pearl of the Caribbean’ that it has always meant to be,” Rawson said. 

To donate to Haiti Friends, go Here.