The United Nations celebrates World Environment Day by acknowledging the efforts of Haitian institutions to increase protected areas and calls for the search for sustainable alternatives allowing for the shutting-down of practices that increase desertification and drought, such as tree felling. The UN also encourages actions to curb uncontrolled urbanization, which increases the vulnerability of the population to natural disasters. Furthermore, the UN emphasizes that women are the most affected by the deterioration of the environment and its consequences in Haiti.
Port-au-Prince June 4th, 2016 : On the occasion of World Environment Day celebrated on June 5th, the United Nations in Haiti reiterates its support to the country in its commitment to increase good environmental and agricultural practices to stem the accelerated degradation of the environment, through the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as part of the 2030 Development Agenda and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. According to the UN, these goals are crucial for strengthening the resilience of Haitians through better management of resources and adaptation to natural phenomena.
UN experts in Haiti emphasize that responsible management and environmental protection at institutional and community level, as well as regional planning, are essential for economic and social development in Haiti. Indeed, pollution and unsustainable use of land and marine ecosystems weaken economic alternatives (including tourism, agriculture, fisheries and energy) and increase the risk of extreme poverty. These factors are interdependent with deficiencies in access to water systems, sanitation and waste management, and also have an impact on the risk of waterborne diseases, energy deficiencies and the vulnerability of the population faced with natural disasters.
Biodiversity is also affected by environmental degradation in Haiti, where 19% of all species are threatened with extinction. This year, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, draws attention to the fight against illegal wildlife trade, with ‘Go Wild for Life’ as the global theme for World Environment Day.
The UN particularly wants to draw the attention to the massive uncontrolled urbanization in hazardous areas (especially along the coast) which do not comply with construction standards and have little access to basic services. According to the UNDP report on the Millennium Development Goals in Haiti, the population living in houses which do not meet the minimum requirements has almost doubled in the past two decades and at least 74% of households live in such spaces in rural and urban areas.
Deforestation in Haiti is also one of the issues that most concerns UN experts, since it accelerates soil erosion and declining rainfall - factors related to three years of drought exacerbated by the El Niño phenomenon and climate change. This has led to the loss of up to 70% of the harvest, price increases of basic food products, and lack of job opportunities in the agricultural sector – adding also to the increase in the number of ‘food insecure’ people in Haiti (3.6 million - including 1.5 million deemed ‘severely food insecure’). This degradation also reduces the access to water in a country where 42% of the population still lacks access to safe drinking water and 72% lacks adequate sanitation.
The vegetation cover in Haiti is very low, although the lack of updated data does not allow for accurate determination of the rate. One of the factors contributing to deforestation is the felling of trees for charcoal production, which in 2012 was used in 92% of Haitian households for cooking. According to the United Nations Organization for Food and Agriculture (FAO), 10,000 bags of charcoal are consumed daily in the country. In addition, soil erosion greatly increases vulnerability to natural disasters, including cyclones, storms and earthquakes.
Once again, UN studies warn of the fact that women and poorer households are disproportionately affected by environmental degradation, particularly rural households with female heads of household, since they suffer the most from lower crop yields caused by the consequences of deforestation.
In response, the United Nations encourages national efforts towards the improvement of production resources, natural resources conservation and a restoration of degraded lands through improved agroforestry, environmental and agro-ecological initiatives, as well as conservation of local varieties. Such practices would contribute to the reduction of post-harvest losses of agricultural products (currently around 30-40%, according to the Ministry of Agriculture).
Given the gravity of the situation, the United Nations welcomes the fact that for several years the Haitian Government, with the support of its partners, has implemented actions to protect the environment and mitigate risks arising from its degradation, such as:
- The signing of UN conventions such as the Caribbean Biological Corridor (CBC), the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
- The creation of new protected areas including the marine zones in the South and North of the country
- The delineation of Macaya, La Visite and La Foret des Pins as National Parks
- The creation of La Selle Biosphere Reserve- The establishment of management structures such as the National Agency for Protected Areas (ANAP) and the deployment of supervisory bodies in protected areas.