Subsidized Propane: Help From the Dominican Republic
In 2006, Haiti Innovation called for the Haitian Government to start subsidizing propane, if only on a pilot basis. There has been no movement on the part of the Haitian government to do so, either in practice or in strategic planning documents like the Haiti Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper. However, help may be on the way from its closest neighbor, the Dominican Republic.
The Dominican Republic's State Secretariat for Industry and Commerce authorized Dominican company, Excel Gas, to transport and sell propane gas and equipment in Haiti. Excel Gas plans to distribute 250,000 propane stoves, some free or subsidized, along with the gas to fuel them. To date, the use of propane is limited to the wealthy. While Peace Corps was in Haiti, many of us cooked with propane although most had to travel long distances to have the mini-stoves filled again.
It is in the interests of both countries to halt the environmental devastation in Haiti. Other methods are noble but just aren't getting it done. The Recho Mirak (Miracle Stove) for example is just a redesign of the common charcoal stoves used in Haiti. It simply encases the base of the stove where the charcoal burns intensifying the heat and slowing the burn rate. It does not change the fact that the consumer is cooking with wood charcoal, just that they are cooking with less of it.
The briquette is an environmentally recycled brick of agricultural byproduct. It burns hot and fast and is more efficient than wood charcoal. After many years, its use is limited to a few pilot projects. UNDP is working on a pilot in Port au Prince, which is welcome. In order to address deforestation in the countryside, the residents of Port au Prince must have access to non wood based fuel sources that are accessible and less expensive than charcoal.
I have high hopes for jatropha as a biofuel. Haiti is an agricultural country and this is an agricultural solution to its energy dependence. Being a non-food crop (not even goats eat it), it will not compete with staples like corn or beans. In fact, it can be grown alongside these staples. Jatropha is still in the pilot stages in Haiti. But if it is accessible and significantly less expensive than charcoal, there will be interest.
Solar and wind power? I have seen solar being used for traffic lights, homes, health care facilities, and Teleco stations. I have yet to see wind power being used in Haiti. Hydropower is being used through the Pelligre Dam, although it caused a great deal of pain and suffering to the community it displaced.
Energy solutions are needed more than ever. Haiti's cloud forest in the southeast is almost gone. Already, boats leave the comparatively well forested Grande Anse each day laden with wood charcoal. Once the road to the Grande Anse from Les Cayes is completed, the charcoal trucks will flood in, eager to meet the needs of energy starved Port au Prince. And Haiti will be that much closer to becoming the Dust Bowl of the Caribbean. There is still time to reverse the damage but the Haitian government must demonstrate leadership.
Subsidizing propane tanks and fuel is expensive but the costs of deforestation mount each year in terms of food insecurity, vulnerability to natural disasters, and instability. As much as I want to see solar, wind, jatropha and other energy solutions take off in Haiti, propane is the most familar option and most readily scaled up. The Dominican Republic knows this from their own experience.
By all means, let's continue working to expand alternative energy usage in Haiti. In the meantime though, bring in the propane. Thanks for reading and thanks to the Dominican Republic for lending a hand.