Page 48 - Respond 2016 Magazine
P. 48


       death by a



       charcoal and deforestation

       The island of Hispaniola—made up of Haiti and the
       Dominican Republic (DR)—is widely recognized as one of
       the most important “hotspots” for biological diversity on the
       planet. However, it is currently suffering large-scale habitat
       loss and deforestation, in large measure because of charcoal                            By Jake Kheel and
       production and unsustainable agriculture. This habitat loss                             Juan Mejia Botero
       not only contributes to climate change, but makes both
       nations more susceptible to the effects of climate.

       Death by a Thousand Cuts, our feature-length film documents   become a very lucrative, but destructive industry.
       the illegal charcoal trafficking from the forests of the Dominican   In Haiti—where dangerously low levels of forest cover have
       Republic to the urban markets of Haiti, and how the conflict over   degraded natural resources—charcoal made from trees is the
       the island’s remaining natural resources could potentially end in   primary source for cooking fuel. With no viable fuel alternative
       violence. Over five years, we witnessed the forests of the Sierra   and limited trees with which to meet its charcoal demand, Haiti
       de Bahoruco—the Dominican national park on the border of   has become increasingly dependent on charcoal produced in
       Haiti—slowly disappear. In our journey following the charcoal   the Dominican Republic—which has significantly more forest
       trail, we explored the complex factors that drive what has   cover. Charcoal producers find remote parcels of forest in the DR,
                                                          clear vast quantities of trees to make charcoal ovens, and then
                                                          smuggle the product back to Haiti in sacks for sale.

                                                          The simple narrative is that desperately poor Haitians have turned
                                                          to the Dominican forests for their livelihood. However, during
                                                          our investigation we quickly found this picture, while not fully
                                                          inaccurate, was definitely incomplete. It is not simply desperately
                                                          poor Haitians cutting down Dominican trees to make out a
                                                          livelihood. Many of the largest charcoal smuggling operations
                                                          on Hispaniola were actually facilitated by, paid for, and directly
                                                          benefitted Dominicans that controlled its production.

                                                          In the lowlands surrounding Lake Enriquillo and north of the
                                                          Sierra de Bahoruco, both Dominican and Haitian charcoal
                                                          producers worked for wealthier Dominican merchants. The
                                                          merchants not only controlled charcoal production along the
                                                          border area, but at times managed to acquired permits from the
                                                          Dominican government, further complicating the situation. The
                                                          different degrees of corruption in the increasing deforestation
                                                          occurring along the border became more and more clear to us.

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