Haitians don’t realize how vulnerable they are to climate change

2016 10 06 Hurricane Matthew damaged houses in Aux Cayes by Logan Abassi_1.jpg
2016 10 06 Hurricane Matthew damaged houses in Aux Cayes by Logan Abassi_1_0.jpg

A scene of Hurricane Matthew’s devastation in Aux Cayes. Climate change will bring stronger and more frequent storms to Haiti, where infrastructure and homes are fragile. Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi

By Milo Milford, Haiti Liberté, Oct. 25, 2016

Haiti is one of the nations most vulnerable to climate change on the planet.

This is in large measure due to recent Haitian governments not taking proactive measures to protect the environment. Enlightened members of civil society also must inform, sensitize, and make conscious the larger Haitian public about the dangers of climate change and its impact on their daily lives.

“The subject is vital and crucial in the light of recent disasters suffered by our beloved Haiti following the passage of Hurricane Matthew,” said Patrick St. Pré, the coordinator of the Association for Climate, Environment, and Sustainable Development (ACLEDD). “You all saw the shocking images that circulated with a vengeance on social networks. This is serious!”

Climate change effects everyone, and, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), it is one of the greatest challenges currently facing humanity, with an economic, technological, and demographic impact.

According to a journalist specializing in environment and climate change, it is not easy to change mass behavior, which is influenced by beliefs, norms, practices, traditions, and governance policies.

“This requires the use of regulations or aggressive fiscal incentives such as taxes and tolls which are generally very unpopular,” he said, recognizing that behavior change needed to make a significant green-house gas reduction will only occur if one can count on sustained efforts in terms of information, awareness, and education for the public and policy makers.

In this context, “part of the work of an environmental journalist would be in particular to assess how international agreements impact the environment and atmosphere, and check harmful effects on the climate," said Patrick St-Pré at a training workshop held on Oct. 15 as part of launching an ambitious project to produce 15 reports on the effects of climate change and environmental degradation in Haiti.

Among other topics that will be addressed: the degradation of mangrove forests, deforestation, burning of waste, pollution of the bay of Port-au-Prince, cutting trees on the slopes of Trou-du-Nord, the deforestation of the Macaya Park and its consequences on Haiti’s south, waste management in the metropolitan area, access to water in the Southeast, and the drying up of water sources in Pétion-Ville.

“We must carry out projects of reporting and mass communication in this fight against environmental degradation, adverse effects of climate change on the environment, and promoting actions for sustainable development in Haiti,” said Mr. St-Pré. “Haiti is a fragile country, due to its climate, geology, and geographic location.”

This project has emerged at a time when there is little discussion of global warming in the Haitian media.

“Climate change is a global crisis, but many in the public have difficulty understanding its importance, especially if they do not see its effects in their local community,” said St-Pré. “Therefore, it is important that environmental journalists reduce the scope of their climate change coverage to focus on local stories.”

He believes that to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly, it will require a revolution in our way of life, entailing significant behavioral changes. We must find new ways to travel, change urban practices, design more energy efficient buildings, produce more efficiently, make responsible consumption choices, etc..

The ACLEDD arose in the wake of the 2015 Paris Climate Conference (COP21) and the signing of the Paris Agreement. It is an association that aims to promote, disseminate, and implement initiatives that promote and enhance environmental protection and awareness of the effects of climate change in Haiti.