Flooding in the South - An Annual Event?
The flooding in the south of Haiti is front page news on the well known disaster/conflict response site, Reliefweb. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has released a situation report (sitrep) stating that thus far 37 have died, 4 are missing, and 78 wounded. In all, 14,504 families were affected and over 3000 families displaced.
Response has been hampered by overflowing rivers and bad road conditions. The Haitian government released the equivalent of $200,000 and the Haitian Red Cross responded with in kind materials such as mosquito nets, blankets, and mattresses. MINUSTAH has been supporting the government by evacuating affected families and helping to carry out assessments.The Pan American Health Organization (regional branch of WHO), the International Organization of Migration, and the World Food Program have also assisted.
Flooding is not cheap. Lives and livelihoods are lost and infrastructure destroyed. Remember Tropical Storm (note: not hurricane) Jean and Gonaives? The city has still not recovered completely from that blow. Every year seems to bring flooding to the south.
One can mitigate these floods with early warning symptoms, improved infrastructure, and an organized civil society. But these floods will happen every year if the root causes are not addressed. And simply put, the root cause is deforestation.
We've argued that reforestation makes sense to better feed people and employ the populace. Plus it would go a long way to restoring Haiti - For those whove driven north of Saint Marc, you know that it is a dust bowl now.
But ultimately reforestation will save lives, money, and infrastructure. The flooding will get worse as there is less vegetation and tree coverage to hold water from heavy rains.
Will Haiti ever be completely reforestated? Not in this lifetime. But strategic reforestation in zones that are prone to flooding is a must. There has simply never been a concerted national effort to do so. No Haitian equivalent of the Civilian Conservation Corps.
When I was in Ethiopia last, there was a national day of planting. Everyone planted a tree. This would at least focus the country's attention on the issue. Alternative sources of energy complimented with a national effort, supported by (rigorously monitored) international funds would be a start. Afghanistan has a Conservation Corps, so there is a precedent here.
Everyone loves to respond. Its exciting and brings in donor dollars. However, the real humanitarian thing to do would be to prevent and mitigate these disasters.
It will be a long process, but it is long overdue.
More info on reliefweb