The Caribbean nation of Haiti was recently in the news after Hurricane Matthew devastated the country leaving hundreds dead, with commentators once again pinning part of the blame for the damage on Haiti's deforestation but a new report from Vice News claims the country's lack of forest cover has been dramatically exaggerated for years.
Report after report claims that Haiti has only a 2 percent forest cover, the result of unsustainable logging practices.
Geologist Peter Wampler, a professor at Grand Valley State University, found this figure hard to believe, telling Vice that he he actually could not find a source for the number. Wampler did find a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization that claimed the country had four percent cover but even that seemed low.
Wampler set out to conduct his own evaluation and discovered that Haiti's forest cover was actually higher, much higher.
Using images from the United States Geological Survey and the FAO’s definition of a forest, the geologist found Haiti's forest cover actually stood at nearly 30 percent.
The report from Vice says that this myth-turned-fact serves as “an example of how conservation and environmental agendas, often assumed to be rooted in science, can become entangled with narratives about race and culture that the powerful tell about the third world.”
Wampler himself realized his discovery would not sit well with those who benefit from promulgating the myth that Haiti needs foreign intervention to protect its natural resources.
“Organizations use this statistic as a lever to get funding and help. For them, it’s a lot more convenient to have a narrative that works,” Wampler told Vice.
“It’s been controversial in some circles … Some people don’t want to talk about it. It’s not the story that they want to tell about Haiti,” he added.
Anthropologist Andrew Tarter told Vice the myth of the deforestation of Haiti was akin to a game of broken telephone, where incorrect information was repeated endlessly. Part of that is tied to the historical narrative around Haiti.
“The country’s history since is a series of foreign nations imposing crippling debt, invading, occupying and intervening, with often dire consequences for Haiti’s people,” states the article.
Starry Sprenkle-Hypolite, an ecologist working in Haiti, told the outlet that the country's ability to manage its environmental challenges is impacted by the poverty created by this regular foreign intervention.
“There is a lot of consciousness of the environment and nature and environmental ethics here; it’s a lack of means that is the problem,” said Sprenkle-Hypolite.