Trees in Haiti Fall Victim to Poverty of the People
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
FORÊT DES PINS, Haiti, March 22 — In a musty shop near the capital's
dilapidated cemetery, Josue Termidor takes a rasp, gently sanding a coffin
avocado tree planks. A decade ago, the coffin would have been carved from heavy mahogany.
"All the good wood is gone," says Mr. Termidor, 32, his fingernails
caked with putty used to seal the brittle wood. "It's got harder to make
a living, and the lack of
wood makes families disappointed and the dead angry."
Once blanketed by lush forests, Haiti is now nearly 90 percent deforested.
Competing against a demand that has far exceeded supply, the Caribbean
more than 30 million trees a year to provide wood, fuel and work to a desperate population.
"The peasants cutting down the trees make even less," added Mr. Termidor, flanked by a metallic mauve "tête-boeuf" or first-class coffin.
Haiti's president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, leader of the poorest nation
in the Western Hemisphere, has been unable to tackle poverty, unemployment
instability, let alone the environmental tragedy.
Efforts have been stymied by rivalries between the government and opposition,
with millions of dollars in international aid suspended since flawed 2000
elections. Some was earmarked for environmental projects.
"We face a total ecological disaster," Mr. Aristide said last month. "Misery and the lack of education are making people cut more trees."
Money would allow the government to prosecute illegal loggers and pursue and an aggressive literacy plan to teach people the value of trees, he said.
But trees are vulnerable even at Forêt des Pins, the Pine Forest National Park that is one of Haiti's few protected areas.
A "No Tree Cutting" sign hangs above the entrance to the forest, on the border with the Dominican Republic. Trash is scattered about the giant pine trees, which have deep hack marks in their thin trunks. Loggers make nightly journeys here, slowly hacking away at trees until they fall. The next day, they are on a truck to the capital, Port-au-Prince.
"The problem is simple, just stop cutting down the trees," said Joel
Joseph, a forest ranger with the Ministry of Agriculture. "But you have
to have the resources to
educate people and to enforce the law. I say the problem is simple, but deep down I know we're headed for disaster."
In 12 years Mr. Joseph has watched his forest disappear, to 34,580 acres
from 93,860. Roadblocks are set up to stop illegal loggers, and their logs
But even if they are caught, the rangers lack the power to arrest them.
Political instability has also accentuated the despair, pushing hundreds to the forests for a source of income.
"When there are political problems in Port-au-Prince, more people come up here with chain saws," Mr. Joseph said.
The scarcity also affects farmers. With no tree roots to hold the soil,
topsoil has disappeared and fewer vegetables can grow. Some farmers also
report a change in
"Because there are fewer trees, there's also less rain," said a 40-year-old
farmer, Cedner Jean. "Dew allows us to grow cabbage, potatoes and beans
but we can't
grow anything else anymore."
It takes a dozen planks, which cost $60, to make Mr. Termidor's shoddy casket. Each sells for an average of $200, and with the profit he pays seven employees, the rent and transport for the planks.
Coffins are potent symbols in Haiti, where properly burying the dead
is tantamount to ensuring protection for the living. But without wood,
Mr. Termidor risks
angering grieving families and his employees.
For Mr. Termidor, "It's a good business because more people are dying."
When he began 15 years ago he made nine coffins a month. Now he makes 15.
without trees," he said, "we're all going to end up dead."