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Haiti - Main Details

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Status and Trends of Biodiversity


In spite of severe environmental degradation problems, Haiti has, together with the Dominican Republic, the second most diverse flora in the Caribbean, after Cuba. Floristic studies among the vascular plants invariably reveal new species, particularly in biological rich areas. According to a floristic study conducted by the University of Florida in the 1980s and 1990s, an inventory of orchids in the Macaya National Park (in the Southern Peninsula) revealed that a third of 134 species were not described at the time of their collection. The total orchid flora, occupying less than 10 km2, represent roughly 40% of the three hundred fifty orchid species known to exist on Hispaniola island (Dod, 1993; Hespenheide & Dod, 1993). Scientists who conducted inventories of Haiti’s flora did not reach a consensus on existing vascular plant species. The number of those published in the literature ranges from 4,685 (WRI, 1998) to 5,242 (IUCN, 1997). The dated treatment of the Flore d’Haiti (Barker and Dardeau, 1931) suggests that over 5,365 vascular plant species are found in Haiti. It has been estimated that among these plants, 37% are endemic comprising approximately 300 species of Rubiaceae, 300 species of Orchidaceae, 330 species of Asteraceae, 300 Graminae and three species of Conifers (Pinus occidentalis, Juniper juniperus, Juniperus ekmanii). Overall, the Haitian landscape hosts, according to the Holdridge classification based on climate factors, a total of nine zones which supports the diversity of forest formations. The country boasts a rich fauna as well, with more than 2000 species of vertebrates of which 75% are considered endemic. The mainland and satellite islands reflect a high degree of endemism. A biological inventory of one offshore island, Navassa island (7 km2), found more than 800 species, many of which may do not exist anywhere else in the world, and as many as 250 that might be entirely new to science (Center for Marine Conservation, 1999).

Number and Extent of Protected Areas

Protected areas, as integral parts of the development process and basic tools for sustainable development were recently integrated in the development scheme of Haiti even if from an historical perspective establishment of protected areas was pronounced during the 1920’s. Officially, the Haitian Government has identified a total of 35 protected areas covering about 6% of the national territory. However, the percentage of effective protected areas is evaluated at no more than 0.3% of the overall surface of the country. With the latter statistic in mind, the Haitian Republic stands far behind other Caribbean countries (IUCN 1994), namely Jamaica (8.2%), the Bahamas (8.9%), Cuba (14.3%), the Dominican Republic (21.7%), Turk and Caicos (39.7%) and Martinique (66.3%).

Percentage of Forest Cover

Haiti’s endowment of forest resources has been treated as a free good and exploited to capitalize economic development since colonial times. Europeans cleared mountain forests to establish coffee plantations and used clean-tilling agricultural practices that promoted soil erosion. European colonists and then, later, Haitian governments harvested and exported timber (chiefly mahogany, ironwood and logwood) to earn hard currency. Haiti’s peasants, especially the land-poor, have historically cleared forest to expand agriculture. Peasants also exploit forest stocks in time of economic insecurity or to finance unexpected contingencies. In several situations, the unsustainable exploitation of trees or forest is the only remaining income-generating option available to peasants. In fact, forests (or former forest lands) are everything to the Haitian peasant: space to grow annual crops, engage in animal husbandry, extract useful products, and a last ditch store of capitol. From a forest cover of 90% in pre-Columbian times and 60% in 1923, Haiti now has a true forest cover of only 1.5% of its land area (Ministry of Planning, 2002). In 1990, only 600 km2 were under dense forest cover, which represented only 4% of what should be forested, or 2.2 percent of the lead area. Today only 338 km2 are under dense forest cover (1.0% (UTSIG 2004)). Twenty percent, of the land area is under sylvopastoral conditions (grazed brush land and savanna), which is being constantly degraded due to overgrazing and charcoal cutting (FAO, 1987).

National Biodiversity Strategy Action Plan

Major features of National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan

The Haitian government initiated a GEF Biodiversity Protection Enabling Activity to prepare a National Biodiversity and Action Plan (NBSAP) and establish a Clearing House Mechanism, with World Bank assistance. In order to meet obligations under the CBD, the MDE conducted a series of national and international consultations (thematic workshops on biodiversity, seminars, etc), whose major objective was to capture views on main biodiversity issues and gain a clear sense of the measures for the sustainable management and conservation of the country’s biodiversity. However, the NBSAP was never completed due to the suspension of World Bank operations in the country as a result of the controversial elections of May 2000. The NBSAP profile prepared pleads for a vision that links the future of the Haitian nation with the way local population plans to use the diversity of biological resources. This future, to become sustainable, needs to integrate a management approach that reconciles Haitian people with their environment and satisfies their present needs without compromising the well-being of the future generations.

The NBSAP profile has retained five specific objectives : 1) to promote education awareness among the public and decision-makers on biodiversity issues, in order to increase their understanding on the interest to conserve Haitian biodiversity and recognize its contribution in the process of sustainable development; 2) to undertake immediate measures to stop biodiversity erosion in natural areas and ecosystems of Haiti; 3) to conserve biodiversity resources of the country; 4) to develop and implement ecological management approaches to preserve and use biodiversity on a sustainable manner; and 5) to implement institutional, legal and fiscal measures in support to biodiversity conservation and sustainable use of components of biological diversity.

Five main priority axes covering a number of sectors of activity have been identified to deal with current issues faced by sustainable management of biodiversity in Haiti:

Priority number one: Conservation of biological diversity This theme concerns the in-situ conservation, conservation and sustainable use of natural areas providing water resources and buffering natural risks and hazards, conservation and valorization of genetic resources, ex-situ conservation.

Priority number two: Education, identification and monitoring of biodiversity components: Incorporate biodiversity issues in Universities curriculum and support their integration into environmental education manuals ; Develop promotional materials, biodiversity awareness through educational campaigns to the radios in order to ensure that the Haitian public is specifically aware of biodiversity conservation issues and that they clearly understand their role in conservation; Complete or refine, under a step by step approach, local or national inventory on biodiversity to set up monitoring plans with clear objectives and indicators; Establish a data collection system on biodiversity; Publish a national report on the status of Haitian biodiversity; Establish links with biodiversity networks.

Priority number three: Sustainable use of components of biological biodiversity: Develop and promote a forestry focused on the issues of conservation; Support initiatives dedicated to develop ecotourism in Haiti; Promote management and use of halieutic (fish) resources in a manner compatible with conservation issues; Take appropriate steps to formulate a Sustainable Agriculture Plan for the country.

Priority number four: Control of alien species and management of Genetically Modified Organisms: Address the threats posed by invasive alien species on Haitian biodiversity by promoting awareness on these threats, identifying Haitian needs and priorities in this field and developing policies and legislation; Set up enabling activities to assess the status of biotechnology development in the country and create an adequate institutional framework for the management of biotechnology issues; Ratify the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety and formulate national legislation to regulate the local use of Genetically Modified Organisms ; Facilitate the access to relevant foreign technologies that have potential to conserve and use in a sustainable way biological resources.

Priority number five: Set up a new legal, regulatory and institutional framework to manage Haitian biodiversity: Implement the new institutional framework, the Office National de Gestion des Aires Protégées consecrated by the National Environmental Action Plan; Actualize the legal framework related to biodiversity issues in particular Laws on biodiversity, biosafety and access on benefits sharing.

Implementation of the Convention

Measures Taken to Achieve the 2010 Target

The Ministry of Environment, through the General Inspectorate for the Environment, has deployed a surveillance corps into the three main protected areas (Macaya, La Visite and Forêt des Pins) to halt the degradation of forest biodiversity in these rich natural areas. The Haitian government has promulgated to the Official Journal of the Haitian State, Le Moniteur, on January 26, 2006 (161st Year, Number 11) a general Decree on Environment (Décret-Cadre) which represents the legal foundation of the national policy of environment and provides regulation guidance for a responsible behaviour of Haitian citizens in terms of sustainable development and will serve as a legal umbrella strategy for all sectors of the environment in Haiti, including biodiversity. The General Decree on Environment contains a specific Chapter dealing with Biological Diversity (art. 135-139). Art. 136 stipulates: Authorities in the country should ensure in-situ and ex-situ biological diversity conservation. The Ministry of Environment is also taking concrete steps to submit to the GEF a proposal for the Establishment of National Protected Areas System and Strengthening of the Forest Sector and Biodiversity in Haiti to create the Office National de Gestion des Aires Protégées et des Forêts.

Initiatives in Protected Areas

The Ministry of Environment has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to complete the National System of Protected Areas of the Country. The finalization of the NBSAP is included among the areas of action prioritized by the MOU. The Haitian government, through the Ministry of Environment, has also taken concrete steps to submit to the GEF a Project to establish, with the Dominican Republic an International Biosphere Reserve, including a Biological Corridor along the Mountains of Massif de la Selle and Sierra de Bahoruco for conservation and economic purposes. In the same vein, a GEF Project to establish a Marine Park on the North-East of the country is also underway. There is a broad consensus that Haiti would like to capture some of the benefits of the tourism trade in the Dominican Republic ($2 billion in revenues per year and 45,000 jobs created), but also avoid reliance on large-scale resort based tourism. The Ministry of Tourism of Haiti has identified adventure tourism, ecological tourism, cultural tourism, and social tourism (living/working in rural communities) as priority areas for development. These activities are intended to offer an alternative tourism development model, one that incorporates conservation and sustainable development concepts into tourism from the beginning, and recognizes that sustainable development through tourism is possible only if the conservation and restoration of biological diversity is insured, if local stakeholders are guaranteed participation, and if benefits are equitably shared.

Initiatives for Article 8(j)

Various institutional supports have been given to some traditional healers association.

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  • United Nations
  • United Nations Environment Programme