Global environmental challenges
Most people wouldn’t consider an earthquake to be an environmental issue. But while the tremors that shattered Haiti early this month have nothing to do with the island’s degradation, the extent of the suffering they unleashed is a direct result of the country’s ecological woes.
The reason can be seen from the sky. The devastated nation shares its island with the Dominican Republic, but misfortune always seems to strike on its side of a border that is demarcated by an abrupt shift from lush green to bare brown. While the Dominican Republic has largely managed to preserve its trees, Haiti has lost 98 percent of its forest cover.
In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne struck the Dominican Republic, and killed 18 people. In Haiti, where the storm didn’t even make landfall, more than 3,000 lives were lost under floodwater and mudslides. Deforestation had left the slopes too weak to be able to retain the downpour. But while some of the extra body count can be attributed to barren hillsides giving way, the true cause goes deeper. The country’s environmental troubles have become entangled in its economic and political problems, making all of them harder to fix.