Greenifying Haiti

January 21, 2010

Most of us, at some point in the past week, have turned our eyes, minds and hearts towards the Caribbean nation of Haiti. As we all know, this country, the poorest in the world, was hit by a terrifying earthquake one week ago. The quake measured 7.0 on the richter scale, making it the most severe earthquake in 200 years and one of the largest natural disasters of our times.

The resulting agony of Haiti will be months in unfolding, but most immediately, at least 50,000 are dead and the number could rise as high as 200,000. In a nation of nine million, this loss is very painful. The capital city of Port-au-Prince was flattened and all of Haiti's plans for economic development have been put aside in favor of rescue and recovery.

The United States has promised $100 million in assistance and already sent at least 12,000 U.S. military personnel to the region to assist the United Nations and other agencies in recovery and peacekeeping operations. Other countries around the world including China, Brazil, Britain, Japan and Italy have or will send assistance, also in the millions of dollars.

Also being sent are individual donations. If you are considering such a donation, you are to be commended. It's a difficult time in Haiti and if there is a chance that a few dollars could make a difference in someone's life, then surely we all want to help out.

Whether you send that money through your church, a private organization or by offering the money to a public group such as the Red Cross or the fund that President Obama asked former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to set up, we want to offer you some reassurance about a greener future ahead for Haiti. This is part of a statement by President Bill Clinton (made on Fox News on Sunday) about what he sees in Haiti's future:

"Before this earthquake hit, Haiti's per capita income was about $780 a year. Seventy-five percent of the people were living on less than $2 a day. One of the big problems was the deforestation. One of the reasons that the hurricanes hurt more there is its trees have been taken down. People will cut for fuel. They cut up the trees for charcoal, (to) cook dinner.

By the same token, Port-au-Prince and the other cities, like most cities in poor countries, hardly pick up the garbage and they have these unsightly landfills that are public health menaces.

There is a neighborhood in Port-au-Prince which brought the crime rate down and the employment rate up by collecting the garbage, taking the organic material and turning it into fertilizer for farmers, recycling the plastic and the metal, and taking the paper and mixing it with charcoal -- I mean, with sawdust and wetting it then drying it and cutting it into these little briquettes.

And three of them will burn as much for as long to cook dinner for a Haitian family as charcoal, and at about a quarter of the price.

So it's -- you employ 10 times as many people in the process. You save money for the families. And you reduce the incentives to tear down the trees. And if you do that and at the same time build income-earning trees, like mango trees, and reconstitute the mahogany forest and other of these fast-growing trees you can cut down without deforestation. That is, the roots stay and they grow up again."

There is hope for Haiti and we can help them Greenify as they recover from the disaster that has befallen them.

 


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