The scrubby green mountains welcoming a visitor to Haiti tell it all.
From the ground, they throw cool shadows over the Caribbean and cities like Port-au-Prince, a mirage of lushness. But from an airplane, the green gives way to deep, sand-colored gouges of erosion and a mediterranean sparseness unsuited to this tropical island.
Less obvious are the dozens of environmental projects that have sprung up in recent years. Some, like a four-year, $30 million natural resource project sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development, are massive. Others, like the tiny tree nurseries sprouting atop the mountainside community of Buteau, about 60 miles south of Port- au-Prince, are minuscule.
But increasingly, environmentalists are looking at grassroots conservation, rather than government-sponsored efforts, as the key to Haiti's future. They criticize the Haitian government and the international community for not doing enough, and for pegging environmental issues to political self interest.
We're only in the beginning of the environmental fight, said Emile Eyma, Head of IRATAM, a private environmental and development think-tank based in Port-au-Prince. And that doesn't mean that millions haven't already been spent on the environment and erosion control--especially by international organizations.
Each year, the country's 7 million inhabitants burn the equivalent of 30 million trees--20 million more than the country grows annually. Forests have shrunk from covering 80 percent of Haiti's lands several hundred years ago, to only 3 percent today.
Deforestation stepped up during the international trade embargo, between 1991-1994, as people burned trees for the fuel they could no longer import. Haiti's exploding population growth hasn't helped either. Strapped for cash and burdened by innumerable needs, the government has not placed a major emphasis on conservation. Only $300,000 has been earmarked for the... [continues]
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