Durbin Introduces Bill to Aid Reforestation Efforts in Haiti

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced legislation today to aid reforestation efforts in Haiti. Once covered by thick tropical forest, Haiti is now 98 percent deforested. That deforestation has caused widespread soil erosion; the destruction of natural barriers from hurricanes; and contributes to widespread and abject poverty.


The Haiti Reforestation Act seeks to end the rapid and near total deforestation of the island-nation and restore Haiti’s native forests to their pre-1990 levels.


“The rampant deforestation of Haiti’s tropical forests has serious economic and environmental ramifications for a country that can scarcely afford it,” Durbin said. “As one of the poorest nations on earth, Haiti can’t do it alone. This bill devotes American expertise and resources to help reverse the decades-long problem of deforestation.”


In the 1920s, more than 60 percent of Haiti was forested, but by the end of 2006, less than 2 percent of the forest remained. However, the widespread poverty of recent decades has accelerated deforestation. Haiti’s unemployment rate is nearly 80 percent and with a yearly per capita income of only $450, forests are being clear-cut so the land can be converted to small subsistence farming.


Tragically, the resulting soil erosion lowers the land’s productivity, perpetuates poverty and accelerates deforestation. Soil erosion also worsens droughts and damages fresh water sources.


Durbin’s bill would reverse these trends by:


• Empowering the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to help Haiti develop a programs to save and re-grow its tropical forests. USDA’s support will help ensure that these programs are environmentally sustainable. USDA would also help coordinate relevant Haitian ministries and private organizations in developing these programs.


• Authorizing the USDA and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) to fund market-based reforestation projects, as well as innovative “debt-for-nature” swaps that conservation groups have successfully used to save tropical forest growth around the globe.


Globally, tropical forests are home to millions of plant and animal species, some of which are vital to agriculture and medical research. These forests are also critical to the reduction of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Approximately one hectare of forest (2.5 acres) can absorb nearly 3 tons of carbon dioxide every year.


Durbin traveled to Haiti last year and witnessed the effects of deforestation first hand.