Haiti: A Pathfinder to Post-Earthquake Responses for Environmental and Natural Resources
Compiled by: 2nd year University of South Carolina Law Student Daniel Y. Lee
The threat to Haiti's biodiversity has led to many environmental problems that have plagued the nation from flooding, erosion, and desertification. The January 12, 2010 earthquake is likely to both exacerbate some of the associated problems, as well as deflect attention away from this important area.
The Caribbean is widely regarded as a biodiversity hotspot. Haiti is particularly biologically diverse, even in comparison to its Caribbean neighbors. Haiti boasts a rich concentration of flora with a particularly rich collection of orchids. In terms of animals, Haiti has a diverse collection of animals. They have 2 native mammals, the Giant Island Shrew and the Haitian Hutia, both of which are endangered. In addition to these mammals, Haiti has a large collection of marine mammals from seals, whales, and dolphins that inhabit their waters. It has been estimated that the island of Hispaniola contains over 236 endemic bird species! In addition to the wealth of avian diversity, Haiti also has over 217 species of reptiles and amphibians.
Haiti has a variety of different ecosystems ranging from the marine ecosystems of mangrove forest, coral reefs, estuaries, seagrass beds, wetlands, and more. The terrestrial ecosystems are just as impressive, Haiti's varied landscape ranging from shoreline to high altitude mountains contain forests, wooded areas, agrosystems, and more. Inland freshwater ecosystems such as lakes, ponds, rivers, springs and more wetlands are also abundant in Haiti. For more on these matters, see this link: [http://www.www.eoearth.org/article/Haiti#Ecology_and_Biodiversity].
There is no doubt that biodiversity plays a key role in the health and well being of the earth and all that live on it. The protection of the biodiversity of the environment and the corresponding ecosystems is crucial to the continued existence of humans living in any environment. The more the biodiversity of an environment is broken down and compromised, the less the ecosystems and environment can deal with additional stress and change brought on by human influence. Biodiversity plays a key role in food, shelter, sanitation, and health care.
The extreme degradation of the Haitian environment has led to myriad problems dealing with these very issues. Destabilization of the ecosystems has led to the increased susceptibility of the environment to natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and desertification. The destabilization of the Haitian ecosystem, increases its vulnerability to human made pollution and changes in the environment. With this in mind, Haiti's Constitution and environmental laws seem to reflect the importance of Biodiversity, although there is a problem the implementation of protective measures necessary in maintaining Haiti's biodiversity. For more on this, see Articles 253-258 and Article 52-1 of the 1987 Haitian Constitution.
Possible Ways Forward:
There are some hurdles to overcome in the implementation of Haiti's own stated goals for the preservation of its biodiversity. The most pressing seems to be the enforcement of the protected areas. Although areas are designated "protected" on paper, in reality, with no one to enforce the protected areas, the degradation of these areas will undoubtedly continue. There is much confusion about what roles specific institutions play. Coupled with interest and commitment in areas other than conservation by most NGOs, few resources go to support conservation and biological diversity.
With the proper education and resources, local communities may be in the best position to do their part in protecting the threatened areas in which they live. By understanding the importance of biodiversity in the areas, especially in relation to the immediate threats of desertification and flooding, the local communities may have more of an incentive to protect the biodiversity of their areas. This might also be able to be done in a sustainable manner by growing indigenous crops in the midst of the protected areas. Once biodiversity in the area becomes robust and continues to grow, the move away from the subsistence lifestyle could open doors to ecotourism in which locals may be in a position to increase their standard of living more than they would be able to working as subsistence farmers or even as workers in factories.
Strengthening and protecting Haiti's biodiversity will affect other areas, most notably water. Protection of the biodiversity of the mountain regions of Haiti will show immediate effects in the ability of the mountains to produce fresh water. An increase in the mountainous biodiversity will lead to less erosion and landlides and offer the natural purification system needed to provide the population with fresh water. For more on this topic, see this link: [http://www.cbd.int/countries/profile.shtml?country=ht#status]
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