More than a year and a half ago, Hurricane Matthew slammed Haiti and ushered in one of the worst humanitarian disasters since the historic 2010 earthquake. The Category 4 tempest assaulted the nation with the combined force of winds up to 145 mph, heavy rain and storm surges that spawned floods and landslides. Ultimately, more than 2 million people were impacted. Agriculture and livestock production were hit hard, disrupting the livelihoods people had relied on for income and cutting off the local food supply.
Haiti is especially vulnerable to natural disasters, and in a nation where the majority engage in smallholder farming, the costs of the annual hurricane season and occasional earthquake are too high to ignore. Most prominently, the lack of preparedness, or even the capacity to prepare, leaves Haiti wide open to the worst any disaster can bring. Structural poverty obstructs efforts to build resilience, and the government lacks necessary resources to build vital infrastructure that could mitigate risks. Homes continue to be built in hazard prone areas without applying and respecting the national building codes, often with substandard materials.
Environmental degradation, the main contributor being deforestation, increases the rate of erosion and runoff, which endangers precious topsoil that takes years to recover. Farmers can no longer count on seasonal patterns, as dry periods are lengthening and rainy seasons have shifted due to climate change — Haiti ranks high in susceptibility to climate change. The country’s vulnerability is systematic, and reducing the risks from the next disaster requires more than just a band-aid: it requires long-term commitment and resilience building.
We at Church World Service (CWS), along with our on-the-ground partner, Group of Research and Support for Agroecological, Innovative, Durable Development (GRADAID), teamed up with Rise Against Hunger to maximize capacities of farmers in the Northwest of Haiti to withstand the next disaster. The Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) project focuses on the Northwest region where food insecurity rates are the highest in the country, and four out of five people depend on agriculture for income.
The project organizes emergency units compiled of community leaders to facilitate knowledge sharing on how to prepare, as well as to raise awareness of the impact of behaviors like deforestation on the environment. The project also provides training on soil conservation techniques and the tools necessary for implementation. Thousands of tree seedlings are being prepared in tree nurseries for planting on hillsides, which will serve to both protect the soil and provide fruit or wood.
While this project has already seen some success, one attending farmer said, “It is good for us, this has come too late.” The more proactive we can be, the less reactive we’ll have to be.