As Hurricane Patricia threatens to devastate the Pacific Coast of Mexico, I thought I’d revisit some of the lessons we have learned about helping rural communities prepare and protect their land from the inevitable storms that they face. Below is a current wind speed map showing hurricane Issac approaching Haiti.
For us at Plant With Purpose, Patricia is a reminder of the extreme vulnerability of the tropical communities 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 hurricanes “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 in the case of Haiti 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.
Storm flooding in Fonds Verrettes, Haiti
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.
Rock wall construction to preserve soil
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. Building community resilience is vital. 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.)
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.”
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.
This work was tested in 2012 when hurricane Sandy struck the Hispaniola. While the northern part of the island was largely unscathed, in the southeast an estimated 40% of the crops were lost, leading to deepening hunger and desperation. However, the rock walls and reforestation efforts dramatically reduced the damage in many communities where we worked. Over and over we heard people say, “Lives and farms were saved because of the preparation work that was done here. It was bad, but it could have been so much worse.”
While we are yet to see the extent of the damage that Patricia will cause, we know that reforestation and soil conservation makes a difference.