Originally: Interview: Arielle Jean-Baptiste discusses the massive deforestation in Haiti

 Interview: Arielle Jean-Baptiste discusses the massive deforestation in Haiti

September 22, 2004

KORVA COLEMAN, host: Massive deforestation is largely to blame for Haiti’s devastation. Here to discuss this is Arielle Jean-Baptiste, an associate with the Haiti Democracy Project. Arielle is also with us from Port-au-Prince. Welcome, Arielle.

Ms. ARIELLE JEAN-BAPTISTE (Haiti Democracy Project): Hello. How are you?

COLEMAN: I’m well. Can you tell us how long deforestation’s been an issue in Haiti?

Ms. JEAN-BAPTISTE: Maybe the last 50 years, it’s been an issue. It’s been growing the last 50 years, but it really, really intensified the last 30 years.

COLEMAN: And why is that?

Ms. JEAN-BAPTISTE: Well, because people have been cutting trees. And one of the main reasons is that you have the people form the provinces and the rural area coming into the big cities. OK. And the ones that are left have nothing else, so they cut down the trees to make charcoal in order to survive. That is one of the major problems.

COLEMAN: And is there any other way for people to find sources of energy or fuel?

Ms. JEAN-BAPTISTE: Well, in the ’80s, the Shell company and the UN and the USAID, they had this project where they replanted trees. It worked for a while until the embargo took place in the ’90s. And at that moment, cooking gas became a rarity and people started cutting trees again.

COLEMAN: And can you tell us why the embargo was put in place and remind us?

Ms. JEAN-BAPTISTE: Well, the embargo was put in place after the coup d’etat, the military coup against President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 1991. And unfortunately, cooking gas was supposed to be a humanitarian resource, but at the beginning, it was kept from being imported here. And when it did come in, it became so expensive that people could no longer afford it. So they cut trees in order to cook.

COLEMAN: Is it more affordable now?

Ms. JEAN-BAPTISTE: No, it’s not. It is not affordable. Even the charcoal is even expensive. It’s just that there’s–it’s a vicious circle. It’s a vicious circle in terms of the charcoal. It’s a vicious circle in terms of the of the cooking gas. It used to be stan–the government used to subsidize it. It no longer does, which means it’s as expensive as it was–you know, that people can’t find it. The everyday people have to cut down trees in order to cook.

COLEMAN: Arielle Jean-Baptiste, do you think the recent devastation from the tropical storm will prompt rethinking about prices or at least rethinking about efforts to reforest Haiti?

Ms. JEAN-BAPTISTE: Well, what happens is that we need to–the government needs to take unpopular decisions regarding this, because people have built all over the mountains and all over the areas, and they’ve cut off all of the trees. In order to do this, you need to–some unpopular decisions need to be made and to move these people out of there. Right now, we need to focus–we are going through an environmental catastrophe, and it’s not only Gonaives. It’s going to happen elsewhere…

COLEMAN: Arielle Jean-Baptiste is an associate with the Haiti Democracy Project. Ms. Jean-Baptiste, thanks so much.

Ms. JEAN-BAPTISTE: Thank you.

COLEMAN: You’re listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. In (technical difficulties), I’m Korva Coleman.