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An Ecological History Of Haiti: Natural Catastrophe Exacerbated By Historical And Political Legacies

2216 words - 9 pages

In this essay I will contend that the 7.0 Mw Haiti earthquake (herein to be called “the earthquake”) of 2010 was so extensive in its destruction of both human and physical resources due to the intersection of its history, environment, and political systems of Haiti. I will defend this claim by giving a historical background of Haiti which dictated the social, economic, and environmental landscape of the nation prior to the earthquake. Next, I will discuss how Haiti’s colonial history impacted its political systems for centuries, extending until the earthquake. Next, I will claim that the political systems in Haiti’s history have directly led to much of its environmental degradation. Lastly, ...view middle of the document...

Due to the colonial status of Saint-Domingue the French interest was resource exploitation to create as much trade goods to compete with the economic growth of other colonial powers. Consequently, little attention was paid to sustainable use of Saint-Domingue’s resources.

This exploitation of resources continued throughout the entirety of French colonization. In light of the French and American revolutions, there were massive slave uprisings in Saint Domingue (Blackburn, 646). After achieving their independence, the inhabitants declared the name of the new nation Haiti, the name given to the island by its original inhabitants prior to the European encounter. But the changes did not stop there; there were also drastic measures taken by the Haitians. As Diamond points out, “French Hispaniola’s former slaves … killed many of Haiti’s whites, destroyed the plantations and their infrastructure in order to make it impossible to rebuild the plantation slave system, and divided plantations into small family farms” due to the memory of their colonial past and fear of it repeating itself (335). The response of the white European slave-holding states would be to punish Haiti, leaving it diplomatically and commercially isolated as well as economically burdened (Mintz, 78).

During its early stage of statehood, the isolated Haiti did not achieve the vast economic wealth that the European powers were able to through mercantilist expansion. Nonetheless, by using their own resources they were able to survive through methods of subsistence much like their Taino ancestors. However, the subsistence methods were unsustainable and their small economic growth came at the expense of their environmental capital (Diamond, 339). The high levels of poverty experienced in Haiti led to high birth rates as can be predicted through a demographic transition model. With limited land and an ever increasing population, Haitian peasants were forced to subdivide their land to the point where subsistence was, and continues to be, impossible.

Haiti’s environmental factors have largely contributed to Haiti’s struggle of subsistence and economic growth. Due to their extreme levels of poverty, Haiti’s people were forced to rely on destroying their forest for fuel (Diamond, 341). Yet, their environment could not support this. While comparing Haiti to the Dominican Republic, with whom Haiti shares the island of Hispaniola, Diamond writes, “the combination of higher population density and lower rainfall was the main factor behind the more rapid deforestation and loss of soil fertility on the Haitian side” (339). This can be largely explained by Hispaniola’s topography and atmosphere. “Hispaniola’s rains come mainly from the east. Hence the Dominican part of the island receives more rain and thus supports higher rates of plant growth. Hispaniola’s highest mountains are on the Dominican side and the rivers from those high mountains mainly flow eastwards into the Dominican side”...

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