Hurricane Season in Haiti: Learning from the Past

Tropical storm Isaac is due to pass over the island of Hispaniola tomorrow and is expected to strengthen into a hurricane. While the media is focused on potential disruptions to the GOP Convention in Florida, we are focused on Haiti:

ImageFor us at Plant With Purpose, Isaac is a reminder of the extreme vulnerability of the island to severe flooding and landslides, such as those that occurred in the fall of 2008. In that season, four deadly hurricanes and tropical storms struck Haiti in a three-week period, killing over 1,000 people and leaving 100,000 homeless. After being hit by “Fay, Ike, Gustav and Hanna,” families lost crops, homes, and thousands of animals—their food, shelter, and emergency savings. What we call a “natural disaster,” is sadly man-made, the result of Haitian farmers cutting wood to make the charcoal they sell in a desperate attempt to meet the needs of their families.

In the aftermath of the 2008 hurricanes, Plant With Purpose Haiti’s technical personnel and group leaders reacted promptly. Emergency programs were developed that would address the needs of the people, have a sustainable impact on the environment, and promote the economic development of beneficiaries.

Based on these goals, Plant With Purpose Haiti created an emergency plan and sought emergency funding. The objective was to rehabilitate the environment and also to reinforce the potential agricultural production for more than a thousand farmers organized in 50 community groups in six communes in the West and Southwest geographical regions. This program focused on three projects:

–       Providing seeds to replant damaged farms

–       Supporting animal husbandry programs (sheep and goats) to rebuild herds lost to the storms

–       Restoring Micro-watersheds and providing high intensity (short term) employment

In all, Plant With Purpose was able to distribute sheep and goats to over 300 families to enable them to replace their lost animals. Plant With Purpose also provided bean seeds to replenish crops to nearly 2,000 families in 44 communities.

These projects made a tremendous difference in the lives of people who had lost everything. The animals restore their economic safety net, and the beans give them hope for the future, as they were able to plant their land and become self-sufficient again.  Farmers, who had lost hope in having sufficient seeds to plant, were able to make a new start.

Plant With Purpose was also able to accomplish significant watershed restoration work, installing 238,833 meters of anti-erosion barriers in 21 watersheds. These projects had the added benefit of creating 800 short-term jobs for local workers. (80% of the interventions were carried out in the central region of Plant With Purpose Haiti’s working area, and most of the laborers hired were members of Plant With Purpose community groups and had all been seriously affected by the hurricanes.)

Image

Building a rock wall to prevent flooding and conserve soil

Many individuals expressed their profound gratitude for Plant With Purpose’s work in their communities, and a deep desire to build on Plant With Purpose’s help to continue to improve their lives. One such person was Abbe Gilles Metiver, pictured below, leader of Larevwa community group. Abbe Gilles said, “Things from Plant With Purpose are full of blessings. The goat received got birth to 2 kids. I am going to keep one kid for myself and give a kid and the mother to two other members of the group.”

Image Abbe Gilles Metiver

In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, Plant With Purpose built on the success of previous programs by instituting a Cash for Work program that employed over 2,500 people. Through this program over 400,000 trees were planted and 360 linear miles of soil conservation barriers were constructed on vulnerable, deforested hillsides.

As Isaac threatens Hispaniola we are confident that this investment in the restoration of the land will save the lands and lives of many people in the mountains of Haiti.

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