In October of 2011, the Lambi Fund of Haiti’s board and staff members planned to spend three days in Southern Haiti to visit grain mills, sheep farming and ox-plowing projects. The plan was to stay in Les Cayes and travel daily to different project sites located in neighboring rural communities.
Unrelenting rains offered visitors a unique opportunity to understand how accelerated deforestation affects the realities of partner communities and Lambi Fund staff.
The first site visit to The Organization of Good Samaritans (OBS) was a suspense-filled journey as board and staff traveled on flooded roads, apprehensively watching the water levels rise as they moved further inland. The visit to this thriving grain mill (first funded by Lambi Fund eight years ago) had to be curtailed because of the risk posed by rapidly rising waters.
Staying in Les Cayes, a town of about 100,000 citizens, did not prove more comforting. Following three days of steady rainfall, cresting rivers and swollen ravines flooded the city and its surrounding rural communities.
Waist high flood waters in both rural and urban areas drove home the point that deforestation impacts Haitians on a regular basis.
For Lambi Fund staff, especially the regional coordinators, visits to project sites have become increasingly risky propositions, particularly during the rainy season. Roads become impassable at a moment’s notice, and journeys quickly turn life-threatening for staff traveling by car or motor bike.
So how does deforestation impact flooding? While statistics vary, most agree that tree cutting has reduced Haiti’s tree coverage from 1-4%. The resulting erosion of Haiti’s mountains has destroyed an estimated two-thirds of the country’s fertile farmland. This loss of trees has meant that arable soil, anchored to the land by their roots, is quickly washed away during the rainy season.
Consequently, without any soil and roots to hold water, a normal amount of water are not absorbed. As such, rainy seasons have turned Haiti into a landscape of overflowing rivers - carrying with them valuable top soil and causing immeasurable damage.
While the world holds its breath when forecasted hurricanes approach Haiti, not much attention is paid to the impact of the rainy season on farming communities.
For Lambi Fund’s partners, deforestation has transformed the rainy season from a much awaited source of irrigation to a season fraught with danger, one engendering unanticipated losses and devastation.
This was witnessed in the recent visit to the South, where some organizations lost 50% of their crops and about 80% of pastures for sheep were destroyed. This means that farmers, who accessed credit from the community-run mutual credit funds, will experience great hardships. Their repayment plans often hinge on the anticipated sale of crops. Meanwhile, sheep growers’ profitability is jeopardized since they will be forced to reinvest in the purchase and preparation of animal feed.
As this vulnerability becomes more apparent, appreciation for Lambi Fund’s reforestation efforts has grown. Partners have responded by participating enthusiastically in training workshops offered on reforestation and seedling cultivation. Members of organizations work collectively to build nurseries, care for seedlings, and replant young trees on their lands and in vulnerable watershed areas.
For the past ten years, Lambi Fund has been steadfast in its comprehensive, grassroots-driven reforestation efforts.
In addition to including a reforestation component in all funded projects, Lambi Fund has incorporated environmentally safe practices in other programmatic activities, most notably animal husbandry. Free grazing has been identified as a significant cause of deforestation and environmental degradation, particularly when goats and sheep are allowed to feed on young trees and seedlings. As a result, all Lambi Fund supported animal husbandry projects build enclosures where animals are kept. The offered workshops show farmers how to grow and preserve the forage needed to keep their animals well-fed and healthy even during the dry season.
Over the course of 10 years, Lambi Fund partners have prepared over 1.5 million seedlings and have planted 1.2 million tree saplings. It is estimated that 60% of these trees survive, meaning that about 720,000 trees have matured in communities throughout Haiti.
Lambi Fund also has plans to hire an agronomist with expertise in agro-forestry who will oversee all reforestation projects. In addition, staff members are exploring the use of grassroots-friendly GPS technology to better document the impact of Lambi Fund’s reforestation projects. Mapping reforestation progress will better allow Lambi Fund to see the strengths and weakness regarding tree planting efforts – allowing staff to enforce and adapt strategies as needed.
In spite of the daunting challenges presented to farmers by deforestation, they are not losing hope. Clermont Yogane Enold, a twenty-something farmer of the Association of Youth from Tet-Kole Bedo, summarized it most eloquently. When asked what they would do to address the losses sustained in the floods he replied: “We cannot give into despair, we will work the land, plant trees and grow our crops once again....”
The rainy season in Haiti has meant marked increases in the rates of cholera infections, especially in the rural parts provinces. These rises are making it especially difficult for those that are sick to receive timely treatment - several Cholera Treatment Centers (CTC’s) have closed thanks to a lack of funding or a presumed lack of need (cholera rates were declining prior to the start of the rainy season).
Visit Lambi Fund’s cholera statistics page to get updated information on the cholera outbreak. This page features maps spotlighting the distribution and intensity of cholera throughout the country, which help visualize the epidemic.
Since infection rates continue to rise, Lambi Fund is continuing to provide education on cholera prevention and awareness to communities throughout rural Haiti. Prevention is essential for many communities in rural Haiti because CTC’s are so hard to come by.
Cholera, like most news in Haiti, made headlines and then was placed on the sidelines as other more "newsworthy" events were brought to the forefront. Since the fall of last year, Haiti has been battling this ugly epidemic and it has been particularly devastating in the countryside due a lack of water infrastructure and nearly unnavigable dirt roads.
For the time being, the cholera crisis appears to be tapering off. Communities throughout Haiti are reporting fewer cases of cholera and the death toll has begun to level off – while this is a good thing, the battle for clean water and sanitation in Haiti is definitely not over. Cholera is and will continue to be a very serious concern for Haitians for quite some time.
Since the epidemic began sweeping throughout the country, the Lambi Fund of Haiti has been working with local partner organizations to teach proper methods of sanitation and has provided communities with affordable water purification methods. During the height of the cholera epidemic, hysteria was sweeping through communities – no one was quite sure how it was spread and rumors were running rampant. Lambi Fund worked swiftly to educate local communities on the causes and spread of cholera. The main message was that this is an illness of dirty water and improper sanitation. Steps like proper hygiene and drinking purified water can and have been taken to greatly decrease the risk of contraction.
It is important to note though that a lack of human waste management throughout rural Haiti plays a major role in the transmission of cholera. This is no quick fix given that 88% of rural Haitians do no not have access to proper sanitation. Thus, Lambi Fund is prioritizing the building of hundreds of latrines throughout Haiti and we need your help. Educating rural communities on the use, building and maintenance of latrines is a large task and will take extended time and commitment. Building just one latrine can provide up to 25 individuals with access to proper sanitation – keeping the environment they live in clean and improving health conditions.
Today is World Toilet Day- a day not only to recognize the millions around the world who do not have access to proper toilets and sanitation on a daily basis, but also a day to take action. The Lambi Fund of Haiti's efforts to build latrines in rural Haiti is now more important than ever.
The cholera outbreak is sweeping Haiti. This deadly infection strikes fast - over 1,000 have died and now that it has reached the capitol, the death toll is sure to rise.
These are heartbreaking circumstances for a country that has already faced an unimaginable year of hardships. Many of Lambi Fund's grassroots partners in the Artibonite Valley, where the first cases of cholera were reported, have lost dear friends, family, and loved ones. Needless to say, this is indeed a very serious and stressful situation - Lambi Fund would like to extend our solidarity and condolences to our staff members, colleagues, and partner organizations during this difficult time.
Sometimes frightening events like this can be paralyzing, but there’s no need to feel helpless. Lambi Fund is working in this very region of Haiti to build proper latrines that will protect valuable water sources from contamination. At the same time Lambi Fund is working with our grassroots partners in communities throughout the country to provide means of water purification to ensure that drinking water is clean and safe.
You can help solve this crisis by supporting Lambi Fund's efforts to build latrines today.
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