Water, forest conservation and reconstruction
Deforestation is a major problem in Haiti, because it affects agricultural productivity. HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is therefore campaigning to protect the “Forêt des Pins” nature reserve. We are raising awareness among the population about forest conservation and the importance of biodiversity. We are drawing up sustainable management plans for the surrounding woods and soils in collaboration with the environment ministry and local people.
The soils have been overused in the past too. HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is helping farmers to increase the fertility of their soils and to prevent erosion. This has led to improved irrigation systems and advice to farmers on how to market their crops. Our work is now turning to methods for reducing the country’s vulnerability to natural disasters such as drought, flooding and cyclones.
HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is also active in projects to improve supplies of drinking water and to build latrines. We are promoting changes in attitudes to hygiene and supporting communities that wish to improve their access to drinking water. This also involves lending assistance to local authorities so that they can discharge their duties to coordinate action and raise awareness.
HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation strengthened its activities in the areas of drinking water provision and sanitation following the earthquake in January 2010. These are concentrated in the area around Petit-Goâve to the southwest of the capital, which was seriously affected. HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation is also committed to helping the people and the authorities to prepare for future disasters and is therefore assisting with the construction of anti-erosion walls, terraces and protective barriers on valley slopes. These measures, combined with improved soil fertility, will greatly mitigate the destructive effects of future catastrophes.
Natural disasters aggravate poverty
The slaves of large French landowners fought to gain their independence in 1804. The fertile land of Haiti appeared to have a bright future ahead of it. However, compensation payments to France, putsches and dictatorships ruined the formerly prosperous island nation. Today, Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Around 80% of all Haitians live in poverty.
For centuries, large landowners and poverty has forced people to cut down their forests for firewood and farmland. Only ten per cent of the country is now wooded, and the consequences are drought, floods and erosion. The lack of fertile land and tough climatic conditions render it difficult for the country to grow the staple crops required to feed its population. The national and regional authorities have, however, managed to set some rules for sustainable natural resource management in recent years. Drinking water supplies have also improved drastically.
The 2010 earthquake set the country back many years in terms of its development. Drinking water and sanitation infrastructure was destroyed; cholera and other infectious diseases broke out and still pose a threat to people’s health. Yet the disaster did reveal one incredible facet of the Haitian national character: their capacity to join together and adapt to even the toughest conditions.
Guts and staying power
Recognised development experts have raised doubts about the usefulness and effectiveness of development cooperation in Haiti. Even HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation had a serious debate about such doubts after a trip to Haiti by two of its board members. Despite the difficulties and the setbacks, however, development cooperation has made small positive differences to people’s lives in Haiti, through water supplies, improved farming techniques and better schools.
For many of the country’s inhabitants, development projects offer the only glint of hope for a better future. HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation will therefore continue its work in Haiti and redouble its efforts to find and/or build up reliable state and civil society partners. Our vision is shared by SDC, our major funder in Haiti.