Every time I read the wire service reports about the deaths in Haiti, the death toll grows. That this disaster has happened, and happened in such a horrific way shouldn’t be a surprise to those who know the island of Hispaniola, it’s weather and the history of the eastern side.
It is no one’s fault that two feet, or more, of rain has fallen between May 18-25 (here’s a satellite estimate from NASA’s TRMM project). No one can be blamed for the mountainous interior of the island which forces runoff to congregate in swift flowing rivers. But decades of irrational land management are surely a contributing factor in this devastation.
I have been to Hispaniola three times. My family and I vacationed at the Club Med in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic in the 90s. In the 70s, I visited Club Med’s “Magic Isle” village on the Haitian side.
I remember leaving the airport in Port au Prince and driving cross country to the club. I had been to places marked with poverty, but never to the extent that I saw there. We crossed rivers, marked with signs warning of malaria. As I remember, I had to medicate with quinine for malaria protection.
The club sat on the coast with a magnificent view of rugged mountains. Though in the tropics, these mountains were barren – totally devoid of trees. After a few days at the club I was told the forests had been slashed and then the wood burned for charcoal. The mountains were left as they were.
Even in California, a contributing factor to mudslides which occur many winters are the removal of plant life during brush fires. But, in California the problem is recognized and often there is remediation. That was not the case in Haiti.
From the Toronto Star: