Part II in a Series: Natural Disasters and Employment in Haiti
JÉRÉMIE, HAITI – Juste Jean Fenel, 33, is a farmer from Despay, a small community in the mountains surrounding Jérémie, a town in southwestern Haiti. He says that frequent natural disasters here affect the whole community.
“After a natural disaster,” he says, “kids stop going to school, the market is closed, and the peasant associations do not meet.”
After a hurricane or flood, it is especially difficult for peasant farmers to recover, Fenel says.
Clad in a gray T-shirt and white pants, Fenel wears black rubber boots to trudge through the mud and rainwater. The boots are necessary, he says, because of the storms that hit the area often.
And when they do, it takes three to six months for peasant farmers like him to recover, he says. And even after that recovery period, it is difficult to obtain the seeds, necessary tools and money to rebuild their farms.
“After every natural disaster, I lose animals, and my fields are destroyed,” says Fenel, this day donning a blue shirt and beige shorts and holding a phone battery in his hand.
His black boots lie to the side, ready for the next storm or flood.
In Haiti, frequent natural disasters destroy the crops of peasant farmers, who have no reserves or savings to start over. Unable to take care of their families, some farmers are migrating to cities for increased employment opportunities, which reduces the local food supply. The government has implemented various initiatives, but they draw criticism for being out of touch with the people’s needs. Meanwhile, nongovernmental organizations are working with peasant farmers in their communities to help them re-establish their farming and prevent devastation after future natural disasters.
Haiti’s economy relies primarily on agriculture, which employs two-thirds of the workforce, according to a 2011 World Bank report. This dependency on agriculture and the frequency of natural disasters make a developing country like Haiti especially susceptible to climate change.
Peasant farmers without savings – many of whom are illiterate – cultivate 75 percent of arable land in Haiti, according to agronomists and nongovernmental employees during a recent community analysis of Despay. They consume what they produce in order to survive. So when natural disasters hit, they are left with nothing.
In 2011, Haiti counted 16 storms and nine hurricanes, according to the Direction de la Protection Civile under the government’s Ministère de l’Intérieur. During the past five years, 3.6 million people became victims of natural disasters. The most notable ones were hurricanes Dean and Noel in 2007, hurricanes Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike in 2008, and Hurricane Tomas and the earthquake in 2010. In June 2011, heavy flooding caused major damage.
Lyvia, a peasant farmer, sells the fruit she grows in Caracolie, a section of Jérémie.
“I sell avocados, grapefruit and bananas,” she says.
Natural disasters increase the cost of growing the fruit.
“They are expensive because when a hurricane hits, it destroys the fruit