Haiti’s Poverty and Deforestation

United Methodist missionary Rick Jost and Solar Ovens

Usually I blog about running and health here. My posts here seem often to be about the beauty of nature – trees, birds, wildlife – seen as I run. This is a story about trees being cut down in Haiti and this problem of deforestation.

Yes, earthquakes kill and maim and destroy, rich and poor alike. But the real killer and maimer and destroyer is poverty. Poverty leads to deforestation.

If the same magnitude – 7.0 earthquake that decimated Port-au-Prince – had struck in a country with better infrastructure and less poverty, perhaps a hundred people would’ve died, not tens of thousands. The earthquake of 1989 in San Francisco was a 7.0 magnitude and killed 63 people. So, poverty makes natural disaster thousands of times worse.

Haiti is often called the poorest of the poor. In 2006, I wrote a story for the Global Ministries’ magazine New World Outlook about Solar Ovens in Haiti. I learned that in May 2004, light rains triggered flooding in Haiti. The same rain fell in the Dominican Republic, the country which shares the island with Haiti. In the DR, less than two dozen people died. In Haiti, three thousand people died. The DR is greener and wealthier.

The problems with deforestation cannot be underestimated. Trees mean more topsoil, less runoff, less disaster when flooding hits, less killer mudslides. That’s why people from the Dakotas United Methodist Church supported the Solar Oven project.

The sun’s heat is an alternative cooking source. I really don’t know how having more trees might positively impact a country like Haiti during an earthquake. I have only reported on the natural disaster of flooding.

But I do know, as the weeks unfold, and as yesterday’s Christian Science monitor story suggests, reforestation should be a priority as Haiti rebuilds and returns. Harnessing the cooking power of the sun is preferable to cutting down trees for firewood.