EarthTalk: What are the primary environmental
concerns in the aftermath of the big earthquake in Haiti?
-- Frank Dover, Portland, OR
before the earthquake Haiti had major environmental
and economic problems. Intensive logging beginning
in the 1950s has reduced Haiti's forest cover from
60 percent to less than two percent today. This lack
of trees causes huge soil erosion problems, threatening
both food and clean water sources for throngs of hungry
and thirsty people. The earthquake has only exacerbated
problems in this country of 9.7 million people that
is the poorest in the Western hemisphere.
© Remi Kaupp, Wikipedia
would be the case after any natural disaster, water-borne
illness could run rampant and chemicals and oil could leak
out of damaged storage facilities as a result of the magnitude
7.0 earthquake that ripped apart Haiti on January 12. Surprisingly,
no large industrial spills have been found during initial
post-quake rescue efforts, but of course the focus has been
on saving human lives and restoring civil order.
to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the
biggest issue is the building waste; some 40 to 50 percent
of the buildings fell in Port-au-Prince and nearby towns.
“Thousands of buildings suddenly become debris and
this overwhelms the capacity of waste management,”
says UNEP’s Muralee Thummarukudy, who is directing
efforts to collect the waste for use in reconstruction projects.
before the quake Haiti had major environmental problems.
Intensive logging beginning in the 1950s reduced Haiti’s
forest cover from 60 percent to less than two percent today.
This lack of trees causes huge soil erosion problems, threatening
both food and clean water sources for throngs of hungry
and thirsty people. “If you have forest cover, when
heavy rain takes place it doesn’t erode the land,”
UNEP’s Asif Zaidi reports. “It doesn’t
result in flash floods.” He adds that, due to its
lack of forest cover, Haiti suffers much more during hurricanes
than does the neighboring Dominican Republic.
these ecological insults is Haiti’s fast growing population,
now 9.7 million and growing by 2.5 percent per year. This
has pushed millions of Haitians into marginal areas like
floodplains and on land that could otherwise be used profitably.
“Most fertile land areas are often used for slums,
while hillsides and steep landscapes are used for agriculture,”
reports USAID’s Beth Cypser. The resulting sanitation
problems have stepped up cases of dysentery, malaria and
drug-resistant tuberculosis among Haiti’s poverty-stricken
population. Trash-filled beaches, smelly waterways, swarms
of dead fish and tons of floating debris stand testament
to Haiti’s water pollution problems—now exacerbated
by the earthquake.
need to…create mechanisms that reinforce better use
of natural resources," says UNEP’s Zaidi. Prior
to the quake, UNEP had committed to a two-year project to
bolster to restore Haiti’s forests, coral reefs and
other natural systems compromised by the island’s
economic problems. Providing access to propane to encourage
a shift from charcoal-burning stoves is an immediate goal.
Longer term, UNEP hopes the program will help kick-start
reforestation efforts and investments in renewable energy
the silver lining of the earthquake in Haiti is the fact
that millions of people around the world now know about
the plight of the country’s people and environment,
and donations have started to pour in. Anyone interested
in helping relief efforts in Haiti can send a text message
triggering a small donation to the American Red Cross (text
“HAITI” to 90999 and $10 will be donated and
added to your next phone bill). Those concerned about clean
water specifically should donate to World Water Relief,
a non-profit focusing on the installation of water filtration
systems in Haiti and other distressed areas of the world.
Red Cross; World
EarthTalk: We’ve all heard about the
abysmal food served in prison, as well as the economical,
even therapeutic value of growing one’s own food.
Are there any agricultural programs or garden projects in
-- Jerry Mullins, Tennessee Colony, TX
prisons in the U.S. and Canada are embracing the notion
of getting inmates involved in on-site food production.
Proponents say inmates who participate have a much
lower rate of re-offense once they return to life
on the outside and tend to adopt healthier, more constructive
lifestyles. Pictured: An inmate tends the garden at
the McNeil Island Corrections Center near Steilacoom,
© McNeil Island Corrections Center.
While there is
no nationwide program administering prison agriculture programs,
various individual prisons across the country are embracing
the notion of getting inmates involved in on-site food production
and agricultural research. According to Howard Clinebill,
a Ph.D. who has written extensively about environmental
psychology, prison gardens offer people looking to turn
their lives around a place to reconnect with their natural
rhythms, get healthy exercise in the fresh air, work cooperatively
with others and care for the Earth in a healing manner.
Perhaps the best
known prison garden project in the U.S. is at the San Francisco
County Jail in San Bruno, California, where inmates have
been working steadily since the mid-1980s to clear away
weeds and rubble from some eight acres “inside the
fence” and replace them with fresh-grown vegetables—some
of which make their way into prison meals while others are
donated to needy food banks, housing projects and senior
centers. According to program coordinator Catherine Sneed,
who pioneered the project, participating inmates learn not
only practical skills but also report that they are better
able to communicate with one another and resolve disputes
cares for particular plants and learns, by watching them
grow, the true nature of this life: growth, renewal and
perseverance,” Sneed reports. “Somewhere during
the time spent quietly working the Earth, something happens
and something changes. Witnessing the cycle of growth and
renewal allows the prisoners to see their own potential
for growth and change.” She adds that program “graduates”
have a much lower rate of re-offense once they have served
their sentences and return to life on the outside.
at Washington State’s McNeil Island Corrections Center,
a team of students from nearby Evergreen State College has
been working with inmates there for the last couple of years
to turn a one acre patch of grass into a field of organic
tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins and other veggies used by the
prison kitchen for meals. A small on-site composting unit
keeps the soil healthy. Inmates manage McNeil Island’s
garden as part of their work detail on the prison’s
horticultural crew, and plan to expand into additional grassy
acreage during the coming year.
Canada’s British Columbia province, a pilot project
at Matsqui, a federal women’s prison near Vancouver,
has been successful in teaching an ethic of stewardship,
respect for natural processes, and a sense of accomplishment.
Inmates worked with landscape architects to develop of master
plan and then implemented their designs with native ornamental
and food plants. “The garden is a learning environment
that allows people to slow down, listen, look, and learn
on many levels,” reports University of British Columbia
landscape architect Tracy Penner, who helped launch and
continues to work with the Matsqui program. “When
released, these gardeners are more successful at integrating
into society…with an ability to grow and adopt healthier,
more constructive lifestyles.”
Francisco County Jail; McNeil
Island Corrections Center; Sustainable
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