After years of political instability, Haiti now struggles to reverse the environmental damage caused by its growing population and widespread charcoal use. This E&ETV/Greenwire slide show examines Haiti’s political struggles and environmental challenges.
Narrator: One of the largest nations in the Caribbean, Haiti was once known for its pristine natural attractions and unique blend of Afro-French culture. Now, it's the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere -- a symbol of chaos and environmental decay.
More than 200 years since gaining independence, Haiti still struggles for stability, and the damage to the environment here is making that task more difficult. Frequent rains spew trash into the waterways and the sea. And Haiti's growing population is causing slums to sprawl vertically up eroded hillsides, a deadly hazard for those living in and below them.
After a decade of political upheaval, stability is returning. 9,000 U.N. peacekeepers help maintain order, giving authorities and aid officials an opportunity to focus on the country's environmental challenges. Communities frequently battle flash floods and mudslides in Haiti. And 98 percent of the country’s forests have been cleared. The government is working to build the infrastructure to stop these disasters.
The chief culprit is charcoal -- it supplies Haiti with 60 percent of its energy. Non-profits are searching for alternatives, including burnable bricks of recycled paper. Solutions like these help clean city streets and put the unemployed to work. Urban recycling is also generating income and bringing troubled communities together.
Rural development poses even greater challenges. The International Energy Agency estimates that about 60 percent of the population lacks electricity, mostly in the countryside. Farmers, with the support of international aide, are working to protect their fields from hurricanes. But Haitians complain that little is being done to help them become self-sufficient in food production.
Despite the difficulties, there are many opportunities for growth. Haiti's offshore reefs are still remarkably pristine. And Haiti's beaches, which were once popular with tourists, are just a four-hour flight from the northeast U.S..
After years of instability, aid workers and local non-profits remain committed to bringing Haiti's countryside and coastlines back from the brink.