Alexandra Pilz & Eleonore Vecchioli
Haiti is one of many small island nations vulnerable to rapidly rising sea levels due to climate change. As a result, it is losing land and is growing increasingly vulnerable to storm surges, extreme weather events, saltwater invasion, and a strain on resources grows as the weather becomes more volatile and crops fail. Our proposal comprehensively details clear solutions to all these problems, while considering cultural, geological, financial, and social factors, as well as the timeline over which it would take place. We use adaptations such as mangrove planting and land reclamation to improve the economic diversity of Haiti and rapidly reduce its vulnerability to the impacts of climate change. Although Haiti has in the past received substantial loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), such as the 2020 Covid recovery loan of $229 million, it is currently under a staff monitoring programme. This means that the IMF does not give financial aid but instead assesses the progress of its economic policies ongoingly. If the IMF deems that Haiti is making sufficient progress, it will then be able to apply for a long-term funding scheme. We will make achieving the goals set out by the IMF one of our main priorities given that it has been the country’s largest source of external financing since 2019.
Haiti is vulnerable to rapidly rising sea levels and suffers from floods and coastline erosion. Our strategy combats these environmental impacts through land reclamation. Land reclamation can be achieved through many methods, such as deep cement mixing and dredging. Deep cement mixing is when pillars of cement are injected beneath the ground to create a stronger foundation and force the land to increase in height. Habitats can be harmed by the concrete injected into the ground in the deep cement mixing approach because it disrupts the ecosystems living in the ground and contaminates the soil. Instead, we will use a well-tested method utilised by countries such as the Netherlands to sustainably reclaim land. This approach involves building dikes and pumping water out of the new land and has room to be much more sustainable than the other methods available. Dikes are barriers made from soil that section off an area so that when it is drained, water from outside the selected area cannot overflow back into the newly reclaimed land. We will construct dikes parallel to the coastline and drain the area between the dike and the natural coastline. A permanent drainage system is also constructed to pump the water out of the area, and it is channelled into water treatment tanks and utilised for agricultural and municipal uses further inland. During the wet season, water will not accumulate in the reclaimed land as the pumping system will remain in place and continue to remove supplementary water from the land. Our desired outcome is fertile land for both agricultural and mangrove planting use. Why land reclamation? Land reclamation is hugely beneficial because not only does it combat the growing strain on resources in Haiti due to their growing population, it combats the land loss Haiti suffers due to rising sea levels. It diversifies the economy by providing new jobs and encourages innovation within agriculture while providing a barrier between important infrastructure and the coast. Almost all negative effects associated with land reclamation come as a result of urban use, which is not what we plan to implement. In some cases, land reclamation has even led to a positive impact on wildlife as land is tailored into habitats for endangered species. There are an estimated 5,600 plant species on the island of Hispaniola, 36% of which are considered endemic to the island, so we will ensure the land reclaimed is carefully modelled around their habitat to ensure they benefit using support studies. We believe working with nature-based solutions and respect for local natural processes is key to safely and sustainably reclaiming land with minimal impact on the environment. Where will the land reclamation take place? Our location of choice is Gonaives on the Northeastern side of the island. Gonaives is a densely populated coastal town, home to 300,000 people and situated on a flood plain. Undertaking land reclamation here would be particularly useful as it would provide a buffer zone for incoming waves, hence protecting the infrastructure. Since the majority of people living in this area work in the informal economy, running a government scheme would help transfer the economy to the formal sector as the government would be their employer and so could directly levy taxes. This is critical as 55% of Haiti’s wealth is found in the informal sector, where transactions occurred undeclared, therefore depriving the government of a large source of income. Whilst this may face opposition, the higher wages, and better conditions of employment under the scheme mean it will likely be accepted by locals. We chose Gonaives rather than Port-au-Prince, the capital city, as it does not have a coral barrier, which means it has little natural protection. In addition, Port-au-Prince is the country’s main harbour city and thus the surrounding land needs to remain deep to be able to accommodate large ships. What is our framework? Our framework for this solution will be based upon the globally renowned land reclamation of the Netherlands. An often-used proverb "God created the world, but the Dutch created the Netherlands'' indicates the extensive use of successful land reclamation in the Netherlands' history. We can benefit from their experience as they have perfected their approach to land reclamation. They are members of the United Nations, so we will consult their engineering experts to ensure the project is carried out effectively. We will run a cost-benefit analysis to find the optimum location for this to take place and ensure any locals/businesses that are impacted are compensated and assisted in any way possible. Our approach to land reclamation requires energy to pump out the water on the reclaimed land. Our proposal aims to be as sustainable as possible, so we will harness the power of the waves in Haiti to fuel our project. We chose wave energy because it is available 90% of the time on average, and the potential power contained in offshore waves is immense. Clean energy such as wind and solar are only available 20-30% of the time, making them less reliable. Leading wave-energy harnessing technologies are currently being pioneered, notably in the UK and USA. Engineers have developed methods that can be implemented both onshore and offshore, but we will use offshore methods to prevent disruption in Gonaives. The systems work by having a combination of a synchronised buoy moving with the waves which in turn turns turbine wheels, thus generating electricity. This type of technology is known as a “point absorber”, which is ideal for offshore locations. It is less technology intensive than other designs and requires less maintenance, thus making it suitable for Haiti. How will we fund land reclamation? Land reclamation is often expensive, so we will sell half of the reclaimed land to private firms under the condition that they help fund the land reclamation, and do not use the land for urban development. Prior examples of land reclamation, such as Mumbai which lost 71% of its wetlands between 1970 and 2014, have also shown that urban land use can aggravate natural disasters, thus the reclaimed land will only be used for agricultural purposes. The land reclaimed is often fertile due to its proximity to nutrients within the ocean ecosystem, meaning that buyers can be found easily. What is the expected timeline? The land reclamation aspect of our proposal will take 5 years to be fully completed, as we plan to first test our technology on samples of 10 hectares of land before extending it to larger portions of land. The draining process will not occur during the two wet seasons in Haiti in the first year of draining, which run from April to June and August to mid-November, therefore meaning the draining scheme will be operational for six months a year. These breaks are not only necessary as draining capacity may be overwhelmed when it is raining, but will also allow us to make changes to its structure where suitable in the times it is not in use. We also want the draining to be relatively gradual so animals can adapt to the changing environment without becoming too stressed. We plan to reclaim 250 hectares of land, which represents 5% of land in Gonaives. For context, the whole of the business district in Cebu City, Philippines, which spans over 300 hectares, was built on reclaimed land, showing that our target is reasonable and feasible.
How will the land be used?
Haiti is vulnerable to extreme weather events and floods that often involve salt water, so the agricultural development on the reclaimed land will centre around salt-resistant crops. One of Haiti’s main exports is rice, and there have been many discoveries of salt-resistant rice crops, such as the O coarctata rice variety found in India. India and Haiti have similar latitudes, so their conditions are similar, with distinct wet and dry seasons, thus this crop could flourish. This reduces the risk of crop wipe-out and creates a more robust source of income. However, salt-resistant crops are often more expensive than traditional crops, so for the first 5 years of our plan, the prices will be subsidised by the UN and private partners to encourage farmers to invest. After 5 years, most farmers will have implemented these new crops and prices will return to normal. To further ensure the reliability of the crops, we will encourage a diverse farming and agroforestry approach. This means lots of different types of crops will be farmed together to reduce the risk of one disease destroying an entire harvest while preserving biodiversity, as well as planting trees where possible to improve soil quality. Companion trees will be planted between rows of crops, a method known as alley planting. This will increase crop yield due to protection provided by tree canopies, improve crop health and increase biodiversity through the variety of plants. If the sustainable agricultural industry grows, it will create new jobs and reduce the rate of unemployment, as well as encourage people to move from environmentally unfriendly industries. People will become more aware of how to approach sustainable farming and its benefits. It also places more people in formal employment, which improves their livelihood as their income is more reliable. Overfishing in coral reefs around Haiti is a huge problem, which could be diminished with an increase in alternative job opportunities. By diversifying Haiti's economy, sustainable development becomes a more viable option. Problems and solutions A factor to consider when reclaiming the land is nearby habitats, such as the essential coral reefs that stretch over 1,000 km of the coast. When planning each step of the reclamation, we will consult experts from countries leading in land reclamation, such as the International Institute for Land Reclamation and Improvement, which was formed in the Netherlands. We will also consult experts from Haiti, including representatives from affected industries such as the fishing industry, the Haitian Ministry of Environment, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources, and Rural Development. This ensures all perspectives are considered, which is one of our leading priorities. Another potential problem that has been encountered by other nations/states utilising land reclamation is the encroachment of water bodies by seawater. For example, the intrusion of the Yellow Sea into the River Delta led to land degradation and ecosystem disruption. We plan to combat this by planting mangroves, as mentioned earlier, along the new coast we create, which will prevent the contamination of fresh water and dissipate powerful, potentially destructive waves. Furthermore, we will ensure any nearby freshwater sources to Gonaives are suitably protected. Land reclamation can have negative impacts on the environment as it can increase the risk of floods. When land is reclaimed, the newly formed coastline is often below sea level, and the directly adjacent sea bed is deeper than it had been before, thus waves are not broken to the same extent as with a shallow seabed, thus their energy is more destructive, increasing the risk of dangerous storm surges. Our solution is mangrove planting, which acts as a natural barrier and dissipates the wave energy effectively with its root system. Mangroves are extremely effective, and the latter half of this proposal concentrates on their implementation.
As a result of climate change, Haiti will suffer from an annual sea level rise of 1.8mm, which will lead to saltwater contaminating the underwater freshwater supplies. This will endanger many municipal water supplies, which are used for both agricultural and urban purposes. Given that agriculture makes up 20.6% of the Haitian GDP, this has the potential to severely disrupt the local economy. Alongside this, global warming will increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events that Haiti is prone to, including storms and tropical storms. The gravity of the damage that these events can cause has been demonstrated most recently in Florida, which is geographically close to Haiti, during Hurricane Ian (October 2022), where there was $47 billion in damages.Therefore, it is imperative that Haiti develops a natural barrier to reduce the impact of storm surges and combat rising sea levels by reducing the volume of eroded soil. Why mangroves? Planting mangrove trees is a solution that tackles both issues above. Mangrove trees have an extensive and dense root network that obstructs the flow of water. The rough outer bark of the trees means they create a large amount of friction when in contact with water and the dense trunks mean they can sustain high-speed winds during tropical storms. Mangrove plantations reduce storm surge by an average of 25cm per km whilst surface wind waves are diminished by 75% per km. Mangroves can also adapt to both saltwater and freshwater conditions, meaning that they are resistant to changes in the level of water around them. This, combined with the fact they can grow to 2 metres in 2 years, renders them a feasible and quick coastal defense mechanism. Mangrove plantations already exist in Haiti and have consistently supported the local fishing industry. However, these have significantly diminished as locals have cut down the trees to provide timber and wood for combustion. This means that the once 1000-hectare barrier protecting Haiti is now only 500 hectares. Our first policy in our mangrove adaptation programme would be to ban the cutting down of these trees and employ locals to plant more mangrove trees. This would be funded by the United Nations Environmental Programme, aiming to plant 100 hectares in the first year and gradually increasing year on year. The scheme would aim to be completed in the next 5 years and have completely replenished the plantation to its previous size to provide fast protection. The programme would initially start on the northern coast, as this is usually the most vulnerable side of the island as it is much deeper and so waves tend to have a larger force. Once the programme is completed, we will continue to plant mangroves along the coast and on the boundaries of reclaimed land, enhancing Haiti’s coastal defence. What are the advantages of Mangrove planting? Mangroves are precious ecosystems and greatly increase fish populations. As 75% of tropical fish species are born in mangrove roots and swamps, a doubling of the plantation would significantly increase the potential for fishing. To ensure the sustainability of our scheme in the long term, we would exempt fish fished in mangrove plantations from VAT, which currently stands at 10% in Haiti, and replace it with a 5% tax whose sum would be directly reinvested into a fund which would be in charge of maintenance and development of the mangrove plantation. The lower value of the tax compared to that of VAT would encourage public support for the scheme, helping people see the benefits of a growing mangrove population and galvanise public support for the ban on mangrove cutting. The tax will also enable the scheme to function in the long term, as it would become self-funding and not require external subsidies. Whilst this may reduce government income in the short term, the elimination of the long-term need for subsidies combined with the significant protection of infrastructure means that the loss in revenue is outweighed by the prevention of future costs. The growing of mangroves not only benefits the local environment but helps the wider environment by acting as a carbon sink. Mangroves sequester twice as much carbon than rainforests, as they store carbon both in the trunk of the tree and the underground network of roots. Mangroves also contribute to increasing the soil storage of carbon as dead mangrove roots are very slow to decompose, meaning that carbon is retained in the soil for a long time. Problems and Solutions To prevent the VAT cut in the mangrove area from causing overfishing, we can monitor the volume of fish harvested through the number of tax rebates requested from fishermen. If too many fish are fished, we can impose a temporary or seasonal ban to ensure the fish population remains at an adequate level. Conclusion Our policy meets every aim we set out to achieve. We have considered financial, social, cultural, and geological feasibility, and clearly outlined the advantages of our approach versus other possibilities. Through the implementation of land reclamation and the planting of Mangroves, Haiti will greatly decrease its vulnerability to climate change and concurrently make the government’s sources of income stronger. This means that Haiti will be able to meet its aims set out by the International Monetary Fund, and therefore receive more loans and funding to develop. Thus, our proposal helps Haiti adapt to the consequences of climate change in a low-cost and efficient manner whilst stabilising the country's economy.