The poverty problem

The poverty problem

Poverty has destroyed Haiti's forests. Photo: AFP

By Cameron Dueck

Haiti was devastated by a massive earthquake one month ago. It was one of the greatest natural catastrophes to have occurred in our lifetime.

But Haiti was already suffering from severe physical damage before the earthquake hit. Almost all of the country's natural forests have been destroyed, making the Caribbean country one of the most deforested in the world.

Eighty years ago, 60 per cent of the country was covered in forest. Now less than 1.5 per cent of the land is forested.

Much of today's environmental damage around the globe can be blamed on our appetite for luxuries and modern conveniences. We're too lazy to save energy, we eat more meat than we should and we shop for things we don't need. This all contributes to environmental problems.

But Haiti's huge environmental problem is caused by poverty. If Haiti were a rich country, deforestation would not be such a problem.

Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, and only about 10 per cent of its people have electricity. Most people burn charcoal or wood for cooking, and both come from the few trees left on the mountainsides. Every time they build a cooking fire, their deforestation problem becomes worse.

Forests provide shelter from wind and rain, and the roots of trees keep the soil from washing away when it rains. They also create a home for wildlife, birds and insects.

As Haiti's trees have disappeared, landslides have become a big problem, especially during the rainy season. Without its forests, Haiti will become even poorer.

I visited Haiti as a child. Over the years, my family has helped build schools, clinics and feeding stations in the mountains to help the poor villagers. While it's easy to point your finger at a wealthy person who consumes more than their share of energy and resources, it's much harder to do that when people are cutting down trees for survival.

The only answer to Haiti's deforestation is to find another source of energy for cooking. Solar cookers are a good remedy. They use mirrors to intensify the sun to cook food.

Environmental problems can be caused by too much consumption or by poverty. But in both cases, technology usually has a solution.

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