Haiti: Occasional Musings 21, Environmental cost of construction boom [Photo Essay]
The construction boom in Haiti driven by Diasporan money, UN [MINUSTAH] and government funds is destroying the local environment around the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. Hillsides are being cut away and river beds decimated to feed the huge demand for rock and gravel for personal homes, warehouses and post earthquake reconstruction by the government – in short everything but low cost housing.
I took these photos of the river Grise at Fatimah on the edge of Pernier where I live. In 2010 you could cross the river and take one step up to the village which you can see in the distance. Now the river bed has been dug as much as 30ft deep in some places forcing villages to make a steep perilous climb after negotiating the river which at times can be deep and fast flowing [See last photo]. Neither the government nor the companies have bothered to build steps or a platform for local people to access their village.
The mining of the river bed takes place 24/7 and there are four companies operating in this location. They pay a government tax for the privileged of destroying the river. The construction boom has also brought an influx of monster trucks in various states of disrepair plowing the narrow streets and blowing out thick black smoke.
Earlier this year local residents, mainly small family farmers who rely on the river for their irrigation and water for animals, held a series of protests against the mining of the river and the trucks which operate day and night. One person was shot and killed by the police which for the moment ended the protests.
In years to come Haitians will again be blamed for destroying their rivers and hills much in the same way they are blamed for destroying the trees but when you investigate it is not the people but big business and corrupt governments who are to blame. Writing in 1968, Marie Vieux-Chauvet’s [born in 1916] “Love Anger Madness: A Haitian Trilogy”, describes how foreigners, forced Haitian peasants to cut down their trees for sale or starve. We don’t hear this story. Rather its always poor Haitians cutting trees for firewood whereas thousands of trees were cut by corporate greed and government corruption. The farmers knew this would destroy their land and tried to protest, but their lives were worth less than the trees! Then charities arrive with food, clothing and the bible to save those whose land and livelihood were destroyed.
The irony is that whilst the real river beds are being eroded, the construction of roads which usually lasts for a cycle of two or maybe three weeks is making the roads into river beds with deposits of silt and pebbles mixed in with flood water such as the road from Frere to Clericine via Tabarre.