What the Floods!
July Stand-by, August a Must, September Remember and October…OVER? Not in Haiti and certainly not now. In recent years the 10th and 11th months in Haiti are this educational weather ditty’s August, October and November a Must. As the rains have rearranged this hurricane jingle they have also rearranged Haiti’s rivers to destroy homes and lives, numerous Haitians are now living in temporary shelters.
And temporary shelters in Haiti means ocal schools, churches and village clinics. The conditions created by the heavy rains brought on by Hurricane Dean in August, non-categorized rains throughout September and October and the recent flooding by Tropical Storm Noel are a major health hazard. The destruction to housing and crops of victims in some of the most impoverished areas rural and urban is a major setback to already meager livelihoods.
The depth of the destruction is challenging the official responders. Haiti’s poor infrastructure makes it difficult to travel in the dry season but after almost a month of rain reaching the affected areas to understand first the needs of victims and then to accurately respond to them is proving a very difficult task. Days ago the estimated number of victims throughout the country from the Southeast department all the way to the Northwest department was 4,500 persons. However the number has now increased to 14,000 with some of the hardest hit in Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas including the vast slum of Cite Soleil, which occupies much of the already silted land nearest the polluted bay of Port-au-Prince.
Over a million years ago the island of Hispaniola was cut in half, by water, from the bay of Port-au-Prince all the way to Santo Domingo leaving the black mountain range in the south and the range in the Artibonite just North. In recent years it feels as if the weather has decided its time to return the island to its original form. However not long ago people talked about the complex geography of Haiti, its high mountains covering 80% or more of the country as what saved it so often from Hurricanes that have damaged so many low neighboring islands. I think we are seeing now that these same protective mountains have been stripped of their omnipotence. Reasonably at one time their grandeur protected or rather prevented large-scale atrocities. But that time has slowly diminished at the hands of a hungry population gnawing at the trees.
Haiti can no longer make excuses. The state of Haiti’s environment cannot withstand the larger environmental issues at hand such as Global Warming. The writing on the wall has never been more profound. The international community can no longer debate how to put food on the table of a charcoal dependent population if that resource is restricted. It needs to be done, yes at the temporary suffering and sacrifice of the current population in order to assure future generations. If not, collapse. Haitians can no longer be considered victims and incapable humans. Instead they should be seen for what they are - innovative, hard working people who when asked to do something can rise to the occasion. The government needs to enforce measures that restrict individuals from deforesting. The government needs to implement and enforce garbage collection so that a short hard nights rain doesn’t result in flooding because the sewers, canals and rivers are not backed up with plastic bottles and bags and rubbish of all imported kinds.
It needs to make strict environmentally friendly decisions regarding waste management, cheap imports, alternative fuels, but again most of all it needs to follow through. It needs to enforce. “Li pa fe anyen” is no longer acceptable whether it’s a sache dlo thrown on the street or an acre of charred tree trunks in one of Haiti’s dwindling water sheds.
These recent floods scattered all across Haiti are scary. They are a scary look into Haiti’s future. From low-lying plains that surge with mud to dry valleys that fill with the rains, Haiti’s environmental situation is devastating. And Haitians can no longer wait for someone else to pick up the garbage and plant some trees. It looks hopeless to many but that needs to change now.
There is a public service announcement that now runs on the local television stations. It is a short cartoon about a mother yelling at her son to take out the garbage. He is on the porch listening to music, rocking on a chair, neglecting his chores as teenagers do all over the world. If I remember correctly she tells him not to throw out the garbage in the street when the rain comes, which is very common in Haiti, because this way it flows downward away from the house. So he listens to her and throws the garbage out into the street immediately instead of waiting for the rains. It lands next to this older man enjoying a read under the tree as well as this pig snorting next to him. And both the old man and the pig call the act piggish. Not the funniest short but still a message that has long been lost in Haiti, one of taking care of your environment. Is garbage collection and planting trees the solution to Haiti’s environmental problems? I wish it were that easy but things are much more complex than that however there needs to be a starting point.
How to help http://www.ifrc.org/docs/appeals/07/MDR49002.pdf