Haiti: Saving the Environment, Preventing Instability and Conflict
Latin America/Caribbean Briefing N°20
29 Apr 2009
Reversing a decades-long trend of environmental destruction is essential to Haiti’s development, social and economic stability and, ultimately, security. Instability and violent conflict are not attributable solely to environmental degradation. But they are made more likely by the latter’s interaction with such factors as weak institutions and governance, political fragility, pervasive and extreme poverty, vulnerability to natural disasters, rapid population growth, urban overcrowding and social and economic inequality. Concerted national effort and international support is required to stop deforestation and land erosion; reduce energy shortages and charcoal dependence; address rural and urban pollution, including the absence of a solid waste collection and recycling system; and strengthen an inadequate capacity to cope with natural disasters.
For years, severe environmental problems have been among the roots of Haiti’s social, economic and even political crises. Following the devastating floods of May and September 2004, which killed approximately 3,000, Crisis Group warned that the ecological disaster was a “time bomb” that needed to be addressed to prevent new instability. Subsequent governments have not had sufficient commitment and strength to tackle the situation comprehensively. Consequently, Haiti in 2009 risks further economic decline and possible political destabilisation, compounded by the impact of the global financial crisis.
Beginning to halt the depletion of the natural environment and factoring the social and economic consequences into national policy must be an integral part of the strategy to prevent new instability. While the problems can only be addressed fully in the long term, the immediate actions required by the government of President Préval and Prime Minister Pierre-Louis to begin this process should include:
declaring the environment a national priority and linking environmental rehabilitation and preservation measures to social and economic development strategies, such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy;
relieving pressure on forest resources by encouraging the use of subsidised wood fuel substitutes, taxing the sale and transport of charcoal and wood and investing returns in environmental rehabilitation programs;
investing more external aid in rural development to stem the flow of migrants to urban slums and stepping up community-led environmental protection projects in those slums to expand access to clean water and basic sanitation; and
strengthening institutions to better manage the environment by establishing and empowering local governance structures, including community policing; completing and enacting the organic law for the environment ministry; eliminating overlapping ministerial responsibilities for natural resources management; and ensuring more effective coordination among ministries and the international community by launching the inter-ministerial committee on the environment to be chaired by the prime minister.