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Greening Haiti

Decades of environmental degradation have left Haiti on the brink, posing a serious threat to lives and livelihoods. Training programmes are helping Haitians move towards a greener, more sustainable economy.

Feature | 31 August 2012
PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (ILO News) – Jean-Claude Bellevue, 54, looks worriedly at his empty fishing nets.

“We use tighter netting to catch the smaller fish, but now even those fish have disappeared. How will we feed our families when all the fish are gone?” he asks.

Paradoxically, it’s deforestation that has put his livelihood as a fisherman at risk. For every 100 trees that once stood in Haiti, there is only one left.

Because there are virtually no trees left to form a protective barrier, the hurricane-prone country is even more vulnerable to the impact of severe weather.

And, because there are no roots left to prevent the topsoil from washing into the sea – where it damages coral reefs – both agriculture and fisheries have been devastated, leading to a rural exodus and overpopulation in the capital.

The result is a vicious cycle of poverty and food insecurity.

As the population continues to grow, the combination of environmental degradation, urban overpopulation and food insecurity has become a ticking time bomb.

"Protecting the environment ultimately comes down to supporting the local population in transitioning from livelihoods that devastate the environment to green jobs. To do this requires skills development and training programmes that offer economically viable solutions to existing environmental challenges,” said ILO Skills Development Specialist Olga Strietska-Ilina.

Training Haitians to go green

An increasing number of projects are helping Haitians take on the formidable task of tackling environmental degradation, be it by planting trees and small gardens, using solar power or recycling waste – and in the case of one project due to start later this year, by turning waste into energy.

The reconstruction projects that were launched in the wake of the huge 2010 earthquake have a strong environmental focus.

One project has been teaching Haitians to use debris from the quake to build or repair houses, pave sidewalks and erect protective structures to prevent flooding.

Urban reforestation is an important component of another project, this time in the notorious Cité Soleil slum of Port-au-Prince, where hundreds of brightly painted old tires serve as raised beds to grow vegetables and saplings.

The programme is training 250 Haitians as specialists on specific crops so they can help neighbours to replicate the urban garden programme. The nursery provides saplings for community members to plant and eventually sell to surrounding communities.

UN agencies, including the ILO, are planning to teach Haitians to build rooftop gardens, as part of an ongoing reconstruction project.

The ILO is also examining the possibility of teaching street vendors the benefits of ticandaie, an alternative fuel made of organic waste – residual charcoal powder, clay, waste paper and starch. Ticandaie helps reduce pressure on Haiti’s few remaining trees, produces less smoke and lasts longer than traditional charcoal, while costing about the same.

By Amy Rhoades
Journalist and skills specialist