Durbin Introduces Bill to Aid Reforestation Efforts in Haiti
[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – Assistant Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin (D-IL) has introduced legislation 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. 80 percent of Haiti’s population lives below the poverty line and too often 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 requiring the U.S. government to engage with Haiti to develop a sustainable, market-based plan to save and re-grow its tropical forests. Such a program will provide technical assistance, support, and capacity-building expertise to Haiti to manage in a measurable, reportable, and verifiable way its conservation and reforestation efforts and will assist Haiti in developing proposals that:
- Encompass widely-accepted environmentally sustainable forestry and agricultural practices;
- Improve forest governance in ways that engage and protect local communities and groups;
- Enhance coordination among relevant Haitian ministries and private organizations; and
- Develop short- and long-term performance metrics to measure results, to include technology to monitor the results of conservation efforts.
The bill also authorizes debt-for-nature swaps for Haiti. Under this mechanism, a nongovernmental conservation group would work with the Haitian government and international creditors to trade Haiti’s international debt for revenue. These NGOs would use these funds to pursue large-scale conservation efforts. Groups such as Conservation International, World Wildlife Fund, and The Nature Conservancy have successfully used this mechanism globally to save tropical forests.
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 has traveled to Haiti a number of times and witnessed the effects of deforestation first hand.
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