December Climate talks in Cancun highlighted the importance of maintaining healthy forests to protect the planet’s most vulnerable people from the consequences of future climate change. Haitians have been glimpsing that future for more than a year after a lack of healthy forests left them vulnerable to other disasters. Here’s a look at the take-home lessons from Haiti’s year of environmental ruin.
In this moonscape called Haiti, there is no place to hide. Hurricane rains followed fast on the heals of the deadly January earthquake, pounding denuded forests and dirt-baked terrain, triggering mudslides, cutting through gullies, destroying anemic vegetation and washing deadly strains of cholera and sewage into rivers where people wash and drink. This once lush Caribbean island nation has been virtually cut clean of its former tree cover by an impoverished people desperate for fuel. Ninety-eight percent of the trees that used to sponge up flood waters, provide refuge for forest animals and buffer mudslides have been cut down. Saplings planted by an endless litany of well-intentioned charitable organizations are sawed down before they can grow by Haitians needing wood to burn.
Haiti offers a heartbreaking illustration of the devastating consequences of narrowly valuing forests for only the commodities they provide, food and fuel, while ignoring the wealth of environmental services and protection forests offer. Now as markets for ecosystem services – carbon, wetlands, and biodiversity – expand their reach, investors are exploring their potential to rescue a tree-starved Haiti.
Ecosystem Marketplace examines the interlinkages between economics and ecosystem degradation in Haiti: The Slippery Slope of Ecosystem Degradation, which originally ran last year.