While Haiti recovers, hurricane season looms
Tree-planting effort aims to reduce heavy rain impact
Imagine a massive glob of molasses sliding down a mountainside into a valley and smothering everything in its path. In effect, this is how soggy soil acts when there are no trees to hold it in place. It creates a mudslide.
In Haiti, a country that has lost more than 98 percent of its natural forests, not to mention experiencing a devastating earthquake earlier this year, the population is more vulnerable than ever to mudslides and flooding. With ongoing earthquake recovery efforts underway, a rainy season that has already begun and the 2010 Atlantic hurricane season just around the corner (June 1 to Nov. 30), some environmental groups are turning toward trees to help.
Keep reading to learn how trees reduce hurricane impacts and find out how you can help...
"Problems with recovery in Haiti are ecological as well as economic," said Ivan Chan, communication director for CarbonFund.org, a nonprofit organization that is leading a three-month campaign to match donations two-to-one and plant trees in Haiti. "There needs to be outside aid to help support the country during the rainy season," he said. Especially now, when more than 1.5 million Haitians are living in tent cities with little to no defense against heavy rains, flooding or mudslides.
As an island nation surrounded by warm tropical waters that fuel tropical cyclone growth, Haiti (and nearby Dominican Republic and Cuba) has a long history of being a target for tropical storms and hurricanes. In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne caused major flooding and mudslides and killed 3,000 people in Haiti, almost all of whom lived in Gonaives, Haiti's sixth-largest city.
The very active 2008 season brought four tropical cyclones -- Tropical Storm Fay and hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike -- over the country in less than 30 days, again triggering flooding, mudslides and the loss of many lives (for more about hurricanes in Haiti, see Jeff Masters' description on Weather Underground).
Many forecasters are predicting this year's hurricane season to be more active than average.
How trees help
According to Ethan Budiansky, who manages Trees for the Future's tree-planting efforts in Haiti, tree roots increase the percolation of rainwater into soil, hold topsoil in place and absorb excess water. Without them, topsoil becomes saturated, erodes and forms mudslides, especially during heavy rain events. Nearly 15,000 acres of Haiti's topsoil is washed away each year.
Haiti's tree cover stands at 1.2 percent. Since the country cannot afford to use oil for its main fuel source, trees are cut down to create charcoal for burning.
Tree-planting in Haiti has been going on for several years and has involved the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), American nonprofits and local organizations. Trees for the Future projects develop sustainable agriculture tools and training for farmers and assist them in creating and maintaining tree nurseries. "This effort supports both the short-term need for food security and the long-term need for ecological restoration and economic growth," said Budiansky.
In 2009, Trees for the Future planted 1 million trees in both highlands and lowlands throughout the country. This year, it will focus on the Gonaives region, which is particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. According to Budiansky, the surrounding mountains form a sort of amphitheater around the city. With few trees on the slopes to hold back soil, mudslides can happen quickly in heavy rains.
How you can help
Trees reduce soil erosion and flooding, in addition to providing jobs, improving biodiversity, absorbing carbon dioxide and cleaning the air. Through July 22, CarbonFund.org is collecting donations, matching them and organizing tree plantings through Trees for the Future as part of its Million Tree Challenge. For every dollar donated, three trees will be planted. The Lambi Fund of Haiti also has a reforestation program in cooperation with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wangari Maathai's Green Belt Movement.
| May 21, 2010; 11:10 AM ET
Categories: International Weather, Posegate, Tropical Weather
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