One of the first things a person who knows a little about Haiti will say when first arriving is, ”I thought there are no trees in Haiti.” Or, if they know nothing much at all (as we were), “There are no trees here, it looks like a desert.” It depends on how you look at it! What can’t be denied is the fact that there are trees but in limited numbers and in certain areas.
Haiti was first “discovered” when Columbus ran aground off the north coast and it was covered in dense forests. Later, when the French took over that part of the island which was known as Hispaniola, the forests were cut down and the wood shipped to Europe. In the 1700’s, more ground was cleared to make room for cotton plantations and tobacco fields. In fact, at one-time Haiti was called “The jewel of the Antilles.” It was the richest colony in the entire world. The Internet says that Haiti produced about 40% of all the sugar and 60% of all the coffee consumed in Europe by 1780, employing up to 1000 ships and over 15,000 French sailors. Haiti, then known as Saint Dominque, for a brief time, produced more exportable wealth than all of continental North America.
So, what happened? The slide downwards to where it is today Is not of its own making, but one of human greed, colonial subjugation and, some say, international forces. Whichever you go with, the country was decimated by that greed with no thought to the future, which leaves us with the picture you see now.
Some remaining forest in the north, central and along the tip of the island to the west. The majority of the remainder, is almost like driving through west Texas or New Mexico…cactus and everything. At one time, the central part of the country was called the bread basket of Haiti. Now, it is drying up. Hundreds to thousands of people die each year from torrents of water coming down bare mountain sides because there is no ground cover, no top soil, nothing to slow or stop it. And tragically, most people never know it is coming.
We feel, this is one of the main reasons Haiti faces the economic problems it does today. You can’t grow a tree without it being cut down for charcoal, which is the primary means of power to cook or even heat in the highlands.
It is certainly one of the reasons your help with the feeding programs and schools is so important. Very few things can grow in the areas we work and those that can are generally out of reach for our friends to buy.
Thank you for all you do to help our friends in Haiti and your prayers for them and Terry.
Steve and Terry