Why Haitians periodically flee the country in large numbers

The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization says half of Haiti’s 8 million people can’t meet their minimum food requirements. Relief groups say the number is growing because fighting and chaos have forced them to cut deliveries outside Port-au-Prince.

The U.N. calls Haiti “a silent emergency,” ranking it below war-torn Afghanistan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and Congo in key health, sanitation and poverty indicators.

That estimate is from before recent troubles. There are so many reasons for this state of affairs, environmental catastrophe is one factor often overlooked:

Rural Haitians live amid barren mountains and valleys that have been stripped of life. The hunt for trees to burn into charcoal for cooking fuel has left the once-lush country with forest coverage of less than 1%. Without mango, gayoc and eucalyptus trees, most of the island’s fertile topsoil has washed into canals, silted up streams and lakes or cascaded into the ocean.

“It’s so environmentally degraded it can’t produce even basic food,” Erikson says.

That is why the Haitians say: “The goat which has many owners will be left to die in the sun.”

What does this all mean? If there is any perturbation in basic conditions, or the ability of Haitians to trade, many more people are plunged below the starvation line. During the last Haitian political crisis about 80,000 Haitians left for our shores, usually with no real plan in hand. Just about any gamble beats staring death in the face.


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