Helvetas supports the population and authorities in Haiti in their efforts to prepare for increasingly destructive natural disasters. Terraces and trees protect steep hillsides against erosion. Local authorities are preparing to react effectively when the next storms strike.
Haiti used to be called the “Pearl of the Antilles”. It was a fertile country with rich animal and plant life and forests stretching from the mountains to the turquoise sea. But French sugar barons, tropical timber merchants, mismanagement and overfarming by smallholders have since deforested the island. The soil is worn out. Soil erosion has left deep scars in the steep hillsides.
And yet now, after a series of natural disasters, the population and authorities are starting to show the first signs of a serious interest in stabilizing the hillsides and sustainably managing natural resources. They are the recipients of a Helvetas project to preserve watersheds and prepare for natural disasters.
Under the direction of local experts, members of 2,000 families in mountainous Artibonite have begun protecting their surroundings. Dry stone walls along the contour lines break the water’s momentum and hold back the masses of earth washed down the slopes. Dense vegetation cover holds the soil together till the planted bushes and trees are big enough to secure the mountainsides. Once the soil recovers, it can store more water, and springs that were dried out for many years begin to bubble again. Haitian experts show their compatriots how to manage the restored soil more effectively and more profitably.
This project also targets local authorities. They are responsible for the protection and sustainable use of soil, water and vegetation. In training courses they learn how to protect their community from storm damage through a combination of regional development planning, protective structures and reforestation. They also learn how to draw up rescue and evacuation plans.
The efficacy of such plans was confirmed during hurricanes Matthew (2016) and Irma (2017): the local authorities that were prepared for disaster situations thanks to Helvetas were able to launch and coordinate rescue operations much more swiftly than most of the other municipalities.