BBC science correspondent Richard Black asks whether environmental issues such as deforestation, and their links to poverty, have been an issue in the estimated 500 deaths from flooding.

Haiti is one of the most deforested nations on Earth, and one of the poorest.

A United Nations report in 1995 concluded that forest cover was “impaired” in 97% of the country.

People carry their belongings across treeless slopes near St Marc, Haiti
Bare slopes have little protection when the rains come

Since then that figure has increased – put simply, many Haitians need wood for fuel and to sell.

In the Dominican Republic the situation is somewhat better – around 15% of the country is still forested.

To the modern eye this might seem plenty. But 200 years ago almost the entire nation would have been wooded.

Research conducted seven years ago concluded that logging, mainly by local people to clear land for agriculture, was a major factor.

Ruined land

When heavy rains come to land which is not bound together by tree roots, the soil is simply washed away.

River banks disintegrate, and water can pour through settlements unimpeded by natural barriers.

Over the years this lack of natural protection from floods has ruined much of Haiti’s agricultural land – removing peoples’ livelihoods, and putting extra pressure on forests which remain.

The situation is exacerbated by Haiti’s high population density, one of the highest in the world – more people means more demand for land and wood, and so more deforestation.

The severity of these rains is highly unusual for Hispaniola, raising the question of whether they are a consequence of climate change.

Computer models of global warming do predict that the frequency and strength of tropical storms will increase, but it is impossible to link one particular weather event to a slowly changing global climate.