October 14, 2008

Deforestation Blamed in Haiti Disasters

Deforestation and haphazard farming techniques have turned Haiti into an ecological disaster responsible for many storm-related deaths, officials say.

Crumbling hillsides lacking trees to keep the soil in place have made Haiti especially vulnerable to flash floods and lethal landslides, greatly contributing to the deaths of more than 800 people in a series of four powerful storms during the last 30 days, The Miami Herald reported Tuesday.

Hurricanes Ike and Gustav and Tropical Storms Fay and Hanna have caused death and destruction on the impoverished nation, at one point literally burying a coastal town in the northwestern corner of the island in mud from floodwaters.

The death toll was exacerbated by poorly constructed homes on unregulated land and lax environmental enforcement, officials told the newspaper.

"The whole country is facing an ecological disaster," said Haitian Prime Minister Michele Pierre-Louis. "We cannot keep going on like this. We are going to disappear one day. There will not be 400, 500 or 1,000 deaths. There are going to be a million deaths."

The U.S. Agency for International Development estimates that 1.5 percent of Haiti is forested, with approximately 30 million trees cut down per year, the Herald said.