Netra Karthigeyan


Haiti is a country in the Caribbean Sea bordered to the east by the Dominican Republic, to the south and west by the Caribbean and to the north by the Atlantic Ocean. [1] Haiti like any country having a huge coastline has its biggest challenge also from the same coastline that graces it. Since all the country's big cities are located on the coast, floods often have dramatic repercussions. Haiti being categorized as a part of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is staring at the huge challenge of dealing with climate change and its effect on sea level rise which poses a huge threat to the country. [2] Global sea level has risen about 8 to 9 inches since 1880. This rise in sea levels is due to two factors – the water melting from glaciers and ice sheets and due to the thermal expansion of sea water as it warms up. Coastal inundation due to rising sea levels points to loss of habitable and cultivable land, which is catastrophic to a nation’s residents. About half of the country’s population is employed in the agricultural sector [3] and hence, unemployment margins will increase further due to climate change. For many Haitians, lack of regular electricity supply causes them to resort to wood as the most important source of electricity. This has caused the island to lose its forest cover rapidly. Haiti remains the poorest country in LAC region and among the poorest countries in the world. Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered an even greater economic turndown. Haiti remains one of the most vulnerable countries to natural hazards like hurricanes, floods and earthquakes. Climate change will impact Haiti by increasing the frequency, impact and intensity of extreme weather events. [4] Due to their challenges of extreme weather along with weak economy, we would need to help Haiti adapt by implementing low-cost sustainable solutions to combat climate change. The solutions also need to provide a new avenue for strengthening its economy and handle unemployment issues they face currently. A huge contrast can be seen when we compare Haiti with its close neighbor Dominican Republic. While they are neighbors, they are poles apart in terms of development. As compared to its neighbor, Haiti lacks proper infrastructure like roads and electricity, has lower literacy levels and lower medical facilities. These contrasting levels of development between the two countries play a direct role in their preparedness to handle to climate change. The main population of Haiti comprises of slaves who came from over a hundred different ethnicities. As against this the Dominican Republic had fewer ethnic differences and hence became more stable than its neighbor both politically and economically. [5] Sustainable and adaptive measures that we propose for Haiti needs to be both economically viable and also provide for new opportunities to strengthen its failing economy. Haiti can learn from its developed neighbor and leverage on adaptive measures that will expand the frontier of tourism in order to improve its economy. Haiti due to its poor literacy and awareness standards would also need help in terms of foreign direct investment to leverage the tourism aspect and this can benefit both the Haiti natives as well as the investors in terms of returns. Solutions for Haiti that I propose include low-cost solutions that are practical for a poor country like Haiti to implement and at the same time the local population can be involved so there is both more ownership and a means for creating jobs. My recommendation for Haiti revolves around four key areas – reforestation, mangrove farming, coral farming, adaptation to floating house. The chief occupation of agriculture will also need to change in terms of food crop choice so that it is both sustainable and revenue generating. We would also need to work towards building Haiti as a tourism location to provide both foreign cash inflow and creating an avenue for skill development and local job creation. Thick vegetation is required to keep the soil intact. Trees help battle weather by intercepting rain water droplets and reducing the force of the drops hitting the ground. They improve soil drainage due to their root system. Thick vegetation also acts as wind breakers and thus prevent erosion by wind. [6] In the case of Haiti an excellent choice towards reforestation would be to combine forestry with crop cultivation. This will help soil erosion, act as a means of livelihood for the locals and also establish an export market for Haiti while also providing a source for energy. In order to implement this, we would need to move the crop choice of the islanders to migrate from food grain cultivation to more tree-based farming and cultivation choices like fruit trees that would thrive in tropical climates. This way we would not only have introduced vegetation and forest cover but also generated a means for revenue generation. Haiti can migrate towards planting of fruit trees like avocado, dragon fruit and mangosteen which are very conducive to growing and thriving well in tropical climates. These fruits also have a relatively higher shelf life than tropical fruits like banana and hence will hold up well as export commodities. These choices of fruits have a niche market due to their numerous health benefits and are hence now a popular choice worldwide by the health conscious.

Just like any super food in the market, these fruits come with an expensive price tag and this can help Haitians to build their export market for these fruits. This ensures foreign cash flow along with job creation all along also helping maintain the soil cover. Haiti’s geographical proximity to the US provides it with the opportunity to have a well-established health food market available in the US. This, Haiti can work on quick farm to shelf transport of its tropical fruits to the US where there is a market available to consume them as is or convert them into supplements, fruit juice or other preserved food. This step will indeed help Haiti stabilize as an economy. Mangroves play a key part of the climate resilience toolkit, acting as natural barriers to protect shorelines from erosion. They have the capability to reduce wave height by up to 66% which is vital due to the increased frequency of severe storms. In addition, they act as vast carbon sinks, absorbing up to five times more carbon than land-based forests. [7] Mangrove forests can thus play a crucial role in protecting coastal areas from sea level rise caused by climate change. A study by University of Southampton found that areas without mangroves are more susceptible to erosion and water encroachment inwards. Mangroves reduce the energy from waves and tidal currents due to soil build up around their mesh like roots. Mangroves add leaf and root structures into accumulating sediment coming in from tidal waves. This helps to increase the elevation and also enhances the trapping of new sediment arriving from the catchment. Thus, the sand banks grow upwards to keep pace with water level changes. In the study, it was found that the ability of mangrove forest to gradually create a buffer between sea and land occurs even when the area is subjected to potential sea level rises of up to 0.5mm per year. Even after sea level rise, the mangroves showed an enhanced ability to maintain an elevation in the upper intertidal zone. Overseas studies have shown mangroves have the ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere and protect people from hazards such as tsunami. [8] These features of the mangroves are extremely beneficial to Haiti in order to protect it against rising sea levels. Mangroves function as a natural infrastructure for resilient coasts, especially by reducing storm surge and waves. Due to their ability to sequester and store carbon, mangroves are increasingly in the focus of climate mitigation actions. Mangroves also provide a great opportunity to develop the tourism sector as they provide wildlife viewing and other recreational activities like fishing. Therefore, revenues from tourism-related spending can provide special incentives for restoration and conservation of mangroves as pristine habitats. The current rise in tourist demand for sustainable options (ecotourism) could provide stakeholders with good opportunities for capitalizing on intact and species-rich mangrove ecosystems. [9] Mangroves can provide sufficient and nutritious food to the local communities. This is very helpful to a poor country like Haiti which has a high concentration of vulnerable population. Mangroves provide important nesting and breeding sites for fish and shellfish, migratory birds and sea turtles. The mangrove forests are important for food, carbon storage and sequestration, coastal protection, tourism and water purification. [10] Moreover establishing mangrove farming is pretty inexpensive compared to the benefits it provides. This ease on the budget requirement makes it an excellent choice for a country like Haiti where due to the prevailing economy we can use only low-cost solutions. The climate protection the mangroves provide coupled with the potential to boost foreign income through tourism make it an excellent choice for Haiti to beat climate change challenges. Coral reefs are widely regarded as one of the most beautiful, diverse and delicate ecosystems on the planet. They also perform the task of protecting hundreds of millions of people from rising sea levels and damaging wave action. Research on the coral reef’s ability to dissipate wave energy have been conducted in conditions ranging from normal surf to hurricane-level waves. The researchers found that coral reefs reduce wave energy by an average of 97 percent, dissipating disproportionately more wave energy as wave energy increases. [11] Building of sea walls on tropical coasts to keep out the ocean is a substantial economic investment for small-island nations. The coral reefs thus provide an inexpensive way to reduce the impact of waves on the shore as compared to construction of artificial retainer walls that break sea waves. Restored reefs can not only reduce wave energy immediately but can also prove more valuable through the years as they keep growing and can keep pace with the rising sea levels. Coral reefs support biodiversity, improve water quality and support fisheries. Corals are vast storehouses of genetic resources with significant medicinal potential. Coral reefs have evolved chemical defenses for greater protection against predators as they are stationary. This aspect represents an important source of medical treatment and nutritional supplements. Presently, there are already a variety of products for medical use made from marine organisms including cancer therapy from algae. One of the earliest modern medicines obtained from corals have contributed to antiviral drugs. [12] On similar lines, development of coral reefs will help Haiti not just protect itself against the wrath of changing climate but also help it to generate revenue by tying up with medical research organizations which can study and find ways to have medical uses for its coral varieties.

The local economy has the potential to receive a boost due to incoming foreign cash flow from visitors to coral reefs through diving tours, recreational fishing trips, establishment and development of hotels, restaurants and other businesses based near the coral reef ecosystem. Coral reefs are also of great importance for accumulation of petroleum deposits and hence contribution to the oil industry. Some corals are highly priced for their decorative value. Coral skeletons serve as raw material for the preparation of lime, mortar and cement because of their calcium carbonate and magnesium carbonate content. Thus, developing the coral farming in Haiti will help the country to not only combat climate change issues but also help it develop its tourism potential. Being located in close proximity to the US, the potential for adventure tourism like deep sea diving and coral reef viewing is immense. Haitians can capitalize on their natural habitat and enhance it to attract this new line of economic growth. Also, tourism development will provide opportunity for established hotel chains that promote net zero carbon footprint to set up remote properties in Haiti akin to the hospitality industry at Maldives. Haiti will benefit from the jobs created and also from improvement to the infrastructure by these established hotel chains. Climate change is redefining the rules by which we live and at a pace we never expected. Because of rising sea level, several areas of the globe are in danger of vanishing from the map, disappearing under water. While the aspects discussed above handle the restoration efforts to fight against climate change, we also need to work on adapting to climate change and its effect of rising sea levels. One way for the people of Haiti to adapt would be to construct floating homes. Floating homes rise with rise in sea level and thus help to fend off flooding better. Floating homes are less expensive than traditional homes. These provide better protection against storms as compared to properties near the coast. The floating homes can be fitted with solar panels and heat exchangers to generate their own power. In a country like Haiti where uninterrupted power is a major issue, these smart homes that generate their own power can be a very good sustainable option. There is research going on in the field of architecture to make these homes with a modular construction, thus enabling an assembly-line approach to mass production, with components durable and flexible enough to create several different designs. Output can be scaled up while keeping costs down, which could make the affordable flood-proof housing units available on a vast scale. Waterside factory production would enable the completed homes to be transported by boat to their mooring site. [13] One of the biggest advantages of the floating homes is that there is no requirement to get relocated due to weather conditions and people can continue to live in their homes which adapt to the rising sea levels. Another advantage to this kind of adaptation is the possibility of foreign investment into such unique properties thus driving demand. While the market for floating properties is still uncertain, there are certain groups to which these developments will appeal like foreign nationals investing overseas for a vacation home. These include people who like to feel close to nature or embedded within a community, people who live an active outdoors lifestyle, and young high earners who want to make a statement with a unique house in the city. Due to such property market demand, Haiti can benefit from foreign investment and gain from property taxes as well as leverage the foreign nationals owning properties to help in development of infrastructure of the country. Floating homes are also a very unique idea for tourists. Maldives, another island country similar to Haiti has a booming tourism industry based on their hotels offering ‘ocean villas’ which are floating homes in their serene lagoons. Similar to their success story with the ocean villas, Haiti can leverage the floating homes to boost tourism and this supplement its economy by moving away from only agriculture dependent economy. With the implementation of all these measures to help improve Haiti’s economy and adaptation to rising ocean levels, we also need to work on improving and modernizing Haiti to fit in with the other developing nations. For this we need to seek help from other nations for knowledge transfer on advance technologies that Haiti can use. While Haiti doesn’t serve as an ample space for installing land-based energy generating devices, the vast oceans around the island nation provide a good foundation towards such installations. Tidal turbines are the future of energy generation along coastlines and Haiti can leverage this technology to generate clean energy for consumption. Tidal turbines have been located in several developed countries which can support with knowledge and technology transfer to Haiti. [14] While rising oceans claim habitable land, another downside comes in the form of loss of cultivable land. In such a situation, aquaponic farming seems to be the most sustainable solution for the locals to establish a self-reliant supply chain of food. Aquaponics involves growing fishes as well as plants in the same soilless environment. [15] This also reduces the dependency on importing food while making the yield fresh and organic. Once tourism is established as a steady source of income for Haiti, the profit from tourism can be invested in installing centers supporting aquaponic farming. Given the abundance of water and aquatic life, maintenance cost would be low while returns would be high, thus presenting itself as an ideal choice for the Haiti locals. This would give rise to increased potential for export of organic food. Haiti has struggled for decades due to its historically troubled and diversified past coupled with its numerous geographical, political and economic challenges. While various organizations across the world including the UN and EU have provided monetary assistance, the key requirement for Haitians is to be guided to help themselves. Lack of education and awareness on the climate change impacts proves very costly to Haiti. It is here that organizations like UN can step in and help establish adaptive measures to breach existing climate damages and slow down, if not prevent the long-term challenges like rising oceans. The comprehensive plan suggested above will not only help Haiti combat surviving the climate change challenges but also help them to strengthen their economy. The measures suggested for Haiti are low-cost options so that they have less dependency on monetary help from outside. For any program to be successful, the main ingredient is for the locals to see tangible benefits in the schemes. The low-cost adaptations suggested hold immense potential to boost the economy by both increasing exports and by establishing the tourism industry. Thus, decentralizing the economy from agriculture alone will immensely benefit Haiti. Adaptation measures that not only improve quality of life but also place Haiti on the tourism map will improve its social standing. We are known by the challenges we combat - these steps will help Haiti move from being a poor country battered by climate change consequences to a country that leverages on these very challenges, turns them around and establishes itself as an important country.