HELVETAS Swiss intercooperation has been active in Haiti since 1983. Our main focus has been on installing drinking water and sanitation systems, promoting sustainable agricultural practices and protecting natural resources. We have also been required to help with reconstruction in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

Water, forest conservation and reconstruction

There is a huge problem with deforestation in Haiti. HELVETAS Swiss intercooperation has therefore put great efforts into protecting the “Forêt des Pins” nature reserve. We raise local awareness about forest conservation and the importance of biodiversity, and we are drawing up sustainable land-use plans jointly with local people.

It was not only the forests that were over-exploited in the past; the soils are depleted too. HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation therefore helps farmers to improve the fertility of their soils and to prevent erosion. Other elements of our involvement in farming are irrigation systems and advice on marketing agricultural produce.

Along with nature conservation, HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is also active in the areas of drinking water supply and latrine building. We support communities that wish to build new water systems or repair existing ones. This includes providing organisational, material and technical assistance to local authorities.

HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation has increased its endeavours in the areas of drinking water and sanitation as part of the reconstruction efforts after the 2010 earthquake. We are concentrating on the region of Petit-Goâve to the southwest of the capital, where the devastation was greatest. HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is also concerned to ensure that people are better protected against the destructive power of natural disasters in the future. This involves building anti-erosion walls, terraces and protective barriers.

Natural disasters aggravate poverty

On 12th January 2010, the wretchedly poor Caribbean state of Haiti was struck by an earthquake that killed over 300,000 people and injured a similar number. Hygiene conditions are precarious in the afflicted land. The forests have mostly been cut down and the soils in certain regions are entirely leached of nutrients.

The slaves of large French landowners fought to gain their independence in 1804. The future looked bright for the fertile land of Haiti. However, compensation payments to France, putsches and dictatorships ruined the formerly prosperous island nation. Today, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. About 80% of all Haitians live below the poverty line.

For centuries, poverty has forced people to cut down their forests for firewood and farmland. A mere two percent of the country is now forested and this causes drought, floods and erosion. The lack of fertile land makes it harder for the country to provide enough food for its inhabitants. In recent years, however, the national and regional authorities have laid out rules for sustainable natural resource management, and drinking water supplies have improved considerably.

The 2010 earthquake has been a setback to the country’s development. Over 300,000 people lost their lives and over a million were made homeless. Drinking water supplies and sanitation were destroyed. Cholera and other infectious diseases broke out and are still a threat to people’s health today. The disaster did, however, reveal one amazing characteristic of the Haitian people: their capacity to help each other out and to adapt to even the most trying circumstances. Yet the brain drain of well-educated young people goes on.

Reference project in Haiti