Since 2002, more than 9,500 people have died as a result of floods in Haiti. In that same amount of time, just over 200 people have lost their lives in the United States Considering how much larger the U.S. (2.9 million sq. feet vs 10,714 sq. feet) is and how many more people reside in the U.S. (318.9 million vs 10 million), that makes the percentage of people dying of flooding in the United States minuscule in comparison to Haiti.
Of course, Haiti is an island in the middle of an ocean. It is expected that they would see more hurricanes than the entire United States. Perhaps it would be better to compare Haiti to its neighbor, the Dominican Republic. When hurricane Matthew hit, 1,300 died in Haiti, but only 4 died in the Dominican Republic. The island these two countries share is only 401 miles at its longest point. The difference between the flooding in these two countries is a direct result of the lack of forests and vegetation in each country. If you compare the picture above, you can clearly see the difference between the levels of vegetation in the two countries.
Haiti has the single worst example of deforestation in the world and has for some time now. Starting in the 1700’s, Haiti started clearing forests to make room for coffee crops. As time went on, further forests were cut down to supply the island residents with charcoal for heating and cooking. It is now estimated that only 1.4% to 2% of the forest is remaining. Given that the country is only a little larger than 10,000 square miles, that puts the forested area at about 200 square miles, or roughly 1/5th the size of Rhode Island.
Because there are very few trees or vegetation, there is nothing slowing the water and allowing it to soak into the ground with there is a heavy rain or hurricane. Without the roots of trees and plants, any rainfall runs unimpeded down the hillsides into the ocean. As a result, most of the topsoil is now found in the bottom of the ocean. Without a good layer of topsoil, there is a lack of nutrients necessary for plant growth, making it harder to grow anything, which of course just adds to the deforestation. They have created an environment that can no longer slow natural disasters or sustain human life. It is a vicious cycle.
Even though they have quite a bit of land available to grow food, their soil will not support crop growth. Because of this, Haiti imports approximately 50% of their food. They also receive a large portion of foreign aid in the form of food, yet it is estimated that 60% of all deaths under the age of 18 are caused by malnutrition.
Fortunately, the government of Haiti has realized the need for improving their soil and ability to grow its own food. They understand the effects deforestation is having on their country and are working to stop the destruction. In addition, there are several permaculture groups who have taken an interest in Haiti. The permaculture groups work with the land to ensure the best practices working with nature are used. They have started building swales (large ditches) to slow the water. This allows it to soak further into the soil instead of just running down the hillsides. They are also working on planting trees and edible plants which will not only keep the hillside from further eroding but will also help with the immediate food scarcity, and any scraps can also be added to a compost pile. This compost will help improve the soil and restore the natural balance of the island.
You can find more information about some of the work being done by permaculture groups in Haiti here:• http://www.sadhanaforest.org/haiti/
• http://www.noramise.org/ Even though this is a drastic example, we should still pay attention when we are clearing land. It is important to keep plants and trees on a site for stability. Should you need to remove anything, it is always a good idea to replace it with something else to keep the soil stable. Likewise, it is always good to replace any eroded soil with organic matter, like compost, to keep the plants healthy and happy. Should you have any questions about what or when to plant, nursery’s are a good place to start. You can also visit your county's agriculture extension office, as most counties have a Master Gardener program specifically designed for this reason.