A Public and Private partnership
Guy S. Antoine
Together we can make Haiti a more beautiful corner of this world than it has been in years. To repair the ecological disaster is an urgent and overriding priority. Concomitantly we must clean our streets, recycle the myriad empty plastic containers of "dlo sikre" that litter the streets of our cities, and most un-spectacularly the capital of our country, Port-au-Prince. We should organize contests for individuals as well as private companies to present the most efficient solutions to help the country manage its waste. We must clear our coastline of the excessive litter on our public beaches, which are rightfully one of Haiti's most precious assets. When I visited the city of Jacmel a year ago, I felt ashamed of this otherwise great tourist attraction. A drop-dead gorgeous coastline was polluted to the point of becoming a filthy pigsty. HAITIAN PEOPLE, WE CAN DO BETTER!
Let's wash the face of our mother Haiti! (We don't need USAID dollars to do it for us.)
Let's dispose properly of our bio- (and non-) degradable products. Today, they are responsible for having killed a good deal of our marine life in addition to some counterproductive fishing methods. Our fishermen associations are learning more productive ways to fish and to manage our fisheries, but they must receive more active support from our Agriculture and Environment ministries. Having laws or guidelines on the books is not enough, if they are not being enforced. However, this is not the responsibility of the government alone. Aide toi et le ciel t'aidera. Fòk nou tout aprann prezève bèl kado lanmè Karayib sa Bondje te bay nou an.
We should prevent those wastes from continuing to poison our sea life: little fish die, big fish go elsewhere. Today our plastic waste products are reaching other Caribbean islands, threatening their fisheries. This must be stopped.
We must seek alternatives to coal burning for our cooking, to diminish the pressures exerted by our urban populations, and most noticeably Port-au-Prince, on peyi andeyò to cut trees to produce coal to bring to market in the big cities. When there are not enough trees or when the few remaining ones are visibly and literally straining to hang on the side of our mountains with their bare roots, our abundant tropical rains are not absorbed and the water makes its way to sea while causing much distress on its way. Toxic wastes are carried with it, little fish die, big fish go elsewhere. Without trees, much of Haiti is becoming a desert, save some still magnificent areas impractically far enough away from our urban centers (but for how long?) Without trees, our birds have disappeared also, finding solace perhaps in protected areas of the Dominican Republic. Tragically, on my last trip to a gentle corner of the country that nursed my upbringing, I searched the skies in vain for the many species of birds I had come to know so well as a youthful and avid naturalist. When there are not enough trees, agriculture becomes less and less productive, and ultimately our peasants go the way of the birds.
When there are no trees, when we do not take proper measures to manage our wastes, we are faced with a total environmental disaster: our big sea turtles (karèt) have disappeared, our fish and bird populations have suffered great losses, our agriculture has become much more difficult, our legumes have consequently become more expensive, life has become most unattractive in certain corners of the country, our men and women look wistfully beyond our borders, and sooner or later they abandon the land. The land of their ancestors. The land named Ayiti Toma.
It is well understood that ecology is only one of Haiti's ills today, but at least in this particular context there are some clear actions we can take to reverse our decline, as individuals and as a Nation, and we can do so during 2002. The land is ours, and if we do not respect it, we should not expect other people to love it and respect it for us. Clean streets, sane neighborhoods, well kept beaches, more trees, these are not only a requirement for living, but at any point in time they are indicators of our love of the country and the health of our people.
What I most sincerely wish for Haiti in 2002 is that we, her children, begin to wash her face so the land becomes as beautiful as it used to be, so the land replenishes her ability to feed more and more, so to put a stop to our ecological disaster. If not in 2002, then when?
Even if we do not have money, with or without the support of the international community, we can begin this work. Not only are we capable of doing so, it is a civic duty for every Haitian who lives in Haiti, and for all nationals living abroad to support the ecological renewal of our country, Ayiti.
The problem with Juna
I have already mentioned the Juna bottles, which I referred to as "dlo sikre" containers. On my last trip to Haiti, I found them littering just about everywhere, including at least one side of the National Palace and the front of the Police headquarters in Pétionville. Absolutely no kidding! [This is almost as bad as another instance, on a prior trip, when I witnessed someone tying his goat at the base of a monument erected to honor a national hero, on a small square on the periphery of Champs de Mars. The man simply tied his goat there and went his merry way. I was flabbergasted.]
Several years ago, Professor Leslie Desmangles called our attention to the growing problem with the Juna bottles in several insistent posts to a popular e-mail list. In the ensuing years, the problem only got worse. To solve this problem, one must understand first of all its causes. They are related to many fields. Let me just cite a few likely ones:
- improper business practices - Who makes Juna and why they do not take a more active role in cleaning their image and the social/physical environment in which they operate? Obviously, we're talking Big Business here, and Big Business's level of caring is... well, just about the same everywhere in this world. Which leads directly to this next point. [/*:m]
- lack of regulations or lack of enforcement from the Ministry of Environment [/*:m]
- lack of waste management expertise [/*:m]
- lack of funding to support an effective waste management program and the recycling of bio-degradable products. [/*:m]
- lack of nutritional knowledge (Haitians obviously consume too much "dlo sikre") Shouldn't we promote the distribution and consumption of juices and fruits, many of which simply rot in the countryside? [/*:m]
- and the biggie: lack of civic education - why people basically do not give a damn. [/*:m]
Haitian people generally expect that absolutely everything should be done by their government. While the government does have an important role to play in the renewal of our environment and while this is in fact one of its key responsibilities, no government program is sustainable in the long run if the citizens are not inclined or do not see it as their own duty to cooperate.
The purpose of my text is not to give the government of Haiti a break in that regard, but to call attention to the fact that individuals also can make a difference, such as cleaning up after themselves and not littering so carelessly.
I was told this absolutely TRUE story: A few Haitian-Americans go to Haiti for a project which called them to visit the Southern part of the country. They were accompanied by a bureaucrat. On their way, they consumed all sorts of good stuff: Haitian kola, sugar cane, mangoes, and so forth. One of these Haitian Americans carefully assembled the wastes and tied them in a plastic bag, to be "properly disposed" of later (at least in theory, because I do not really know what proper disposal ultimately means in Haiti). As they were driven to their destination, the bureaucrat reached for the plastic bag and threw it by the side of the road, making mention of the fact that he did not care to carry wastes in the vehicle while there was nothing wrong with simply discarding them by the road: out of sight, out of mind. This bureaucrat later became a Prime Minister of Haiti.
What does Haiti need? On the grand scale of ideas, we could advance the following: waste management, water conservation and purification, alternative sources of energy, top soil regeneration and reforestation, enforcement of regulations already on the books governing land use and fisheries, and above all civic education... all of which Johnny McCalla neatly summed up to me one day in two words: "Clean Streets". It took me a while to understand the verity of what he said... until it dawned on me that indeed, it's all related. To insure clean streets, day in and day out, in Port-au-Prince as well as Cap-Haitien, Port-de-Paix, Gonaives, Saint-Marc, Cayes, Jacmel, Jérémie, and all other cities, towns, and villages is no small feat. It would require a mobilization of our public administration and the cooperation of our business community and our citizenry, the likes of which we have not seen in quite a while; and the political will to make it happen. There is no doubt that this civic undertaking, with its logistics, mobilization of our human resources, and their resulting synergy would naturally apply to a host of other priorities.
Impractical solutions… to be sure (We have no money… there's this matter of elections that has to be resolved before anything else… everyone wants a turn at being president… then there is this rice scandal… there's this matter of Foreign Aid not disbursed but on which we have paid collections fees and dutifully pay interest… there's the attempted coups… we have to prepare for carnival… and with all of this going on, I still expect to have clean streets? I must be out of my mind!)
That may be lunacy, but where's the crime? I only ask for your input.
Washing the face of Haiti
Someone offered this observation: "Traveling back to Port-au-Prince from Lulie, Ibo Beach, a sharp observer can see a thin blue smoke cover over Port-au-Prince in the distance; courtesy of all the tap tap mufflers with their black thick exhausts. Does the government do car inspection in Haiti? Is there any automobile emission control in effect?"
Well, that's certainly something to think about. Someone needs to act at that end of the scale, but at the other end someone may also choose not to litter the street and the roadside. This is why I propose that we put our heads together and develop some sensible solutions, rather than placing all the burden on anyone in particular. Positive actions from individual citizens and true friends of Haiti ought to be commanded and publicized.
Cleaning the face of Haiti might just become contagious.