ICE Case Studies
Deforestation in Haiti
CASE NUMBER: 54
NAME: DEFORESTATION IN HAITI
AUTHOR: Kristen Picariello December 18, 1997
I. CASE BACKGROUND
Haiti is one of the many developing countries that has sought to increase its growth and end its cycle of poverty. One of the ways in which it has done this has been by cutting down the forests. Most of Haiti's population live below the poverty line. Nearly 70 percent of all Haitians depend on the agriculture sector, which consists mainly of small-scale subsistence farming and employs about two thirds of the economically active work force (1). However, extreme soil erosion and deforestation mean that Haiti's environment is one of the most devastated in the world. Only 30 percent of the land is suitable for cultivation, with the result that the majority of the rural poor have a desperate struggle for survival on marginal areas.
In Haiti, a substantial share of poverty is also traceable to rapid population growth pressing upon limited endowments of soils and clean water. Deforestation and population growth, coupled with years of repression and colonial intervention has caused the uprooting of hundreds of thousands of Haitians. Many of these Haitians flee Haiti and head to the United States in boats and rafts. Vast numbers of men, women and children never make it to the United States. Those who do are deported back to Haiti. A vicious cycle soon begins, with the environment and innocent Haitian people caught in the midst of it.
Deforestation refers to the complete destruction of forest cover, whether this destruction is due to land-clearing for cattle ranching, small holder agriculture, (Haiti) plantation agriculture, or parking lots. Deforestation means that the land is converted permanently from forest uses to non-forest purposes. Deforestation is much more serious than forest degradation. Forest degradation may change the ecology of certain forest aspects, but it does not destroy all forest cover (2). Originally, tropical forests in Asia, Africa, and Latin America covered about fifteen million square km. of land area, or about 12 percent of the earth's surface. Today, tropical rain forest cover has shrunk to half that, or 7.5 million square km(3). In addition to this sad reality, the rate of destruction of the forest is increasing. As late as 1979, deforestation occurred on "only" 75,000 square km. per year. By 1991, the annual amount of forest deforestation had risen to between 130,000 and 140,000 square km. The rate of deforestation increased by 80 percent in these years. In other words, the rate of deforestation rose from less than 1 percent of forest area per year in 1979 to nearly 2 percent of forest area by 1991. In many areas, the rate of deforestation was much higher (three quarters) as high as 12 percent per year in some countries of West Africa and Latin America(4). The rapid loss of forest cover has grave economical, ecological and ethical consequences. Millions of people in Haiti and other poor countries face permanent poverty with forest destruction. Haiti is a country that is virtually deforested at the present time. If one were to fly over the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic, the border appears like an “acetylene torch” owing to massive deforestation in Haiti drew it. The Haitian climate has, as a result of deforestation, been changed drastically (5).
Poverty and the Poor in Haiti
Numerous studies have illustrated that poverty and hunger are often related to environmental degradation (6). In Haiti and other developing countries, there has been a strong effort to keep the poor landless and disenfranchised. If they are vulnerable economically and socially, it is believed the poor can be easily coerced into working for the rural and urban elites for low wages. If the poor are unable to produce their own food, they are quickly absorbed into the cash...
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