Climate Risks: Understanding Haiti's Climate Vulnerability

photo credit Vic Hinterlang

photo credit Vic Hinterlang

As we celebrate Earth Day this year and acknowledge all that our planet has to offer, it’s important to also remember what we are up against. Our ongoing exploitative transactional relationship with the Earth’s environment has resulted in the rapid depletion of natural resources, animal extinctions, forest destruction, increased natural disasters and pandemics. Vulnerable communities, like those we serve in Haiti, suffer disproportionately from these occurrences and it's important we shed a light on the true climate risks these populations are experiencing and will continue to face.

Though Haiti’s geographical location and topological features certainly increase the nation’s physical vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, the degree of environmental degradation and environmental vulnerability in Haiti is anything but natural. Generally, low-income nations have a negligible direct contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, yet bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. The UN’s special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights recently coined this phenomenon the “climate apartheid” and warns that without drastic restructuring of global systems, countries like Haiti will only continue to face more grave consequences for global climate inaction.

How is Climate Vulnerability Determined?

According to Germanwatch’s annual Global Climate Risk Index (CRI), which analyzes and ranks to what extent countries have been affected by climate related extreme weather events, Haiti is currently ranked 3rd in the world for being most vulnerable to climate risks in 2021.

The Climate Risk Index (CRI) is an “analysis of the impacts of extreme weather events and associated socio-economic data” and indicates a level of exposure and vulnerability to extreme events such as storms, floods, and heatwaves. However, the CRI does not take into account rising sea levels or ocean warming and acidification, climate changes that may also impact Haiti. The CRI uses both social and economic data to measure the impacts of extreme weather events on the countries, including fatalities, and economic losses that occurred as a result of climate change. From this data, the Global Climate Risk Index determines which countries have been most severely impacted and which are most at risk.

Haiti and Climate Vulnerability

As mentioned, Haiti is ranked 3rd in the world for being most vulnerable to climate risks and climate change. It’s geographic location and topography, as well as its land use practices, low per capita income, high population density, and limited infrastructure and services contribute to its climate vulnerability” ( USAID).

Climate change poses a serious threat to many of Haiti’s industries and the overall livelihoods of its people. Agriculture is Haiti’s main industry and makes up over 60% of the workforce nationwide. Most of the agricultural sector in Haiti consists of subsistence farming, which is particularly vulnerable to climate change, as soil erosion, flooding, and drought have already reduced soil fertility and crop yields (USAID). According to an analysis conducted by USAID, agriculture is not the only industry in danger, as vulnerability to climate change and extreme weather also poses challenges to Haiti’s government at both the national and local levels. These challenges include technical capacity, financial resources, political stability, and reliable energy infrastructure. At the same time, providing disaster recovery services often requires diverting from the finite resources available to support sustainable

Arial view of rural Haiti and agriculture.

growth and development, which in turn, impacts the government’s capacity to provide basic services.

Given Haiti’s current vulnerability, it’s  climate future is alarming. According to the World Bank,  climate change will have a number of impacts on Haiti, including:  increased temperatures, increase in the frequency of flood and drought events, a rise in  sea levels in the Caribbean, and more intense and frequent hurricane events (World Bank).  It’s imperative that we take action now to mitigate the impacts of climate change and put in place  sustainable development models that are climate adaptive and resilient. 

Why Do Developing Countries Face the Highest Risk?

Developing countries are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because they more often face disproportionate exposure to extreme weather events, while also having a lower coping capacity to handle the socio-economic impacts of these events. According to Germanwatch, over the last two decades, between 2000 and 2019, Puerto Rico, Myanmar and Haiti were most affected by the impacts of extreme weather events. These rankings are attributed to the aftermath of exceptionally devastating events such as Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and Hurricanes Jeanne and Sandy in Haiti (Germanwatch). Countries like Haiti, the Philippines and Pakistan, have continuously ranked among the most affected both in the long-term index and the yearly index, due to them experiencing recurrent catastrophes.

Despite the fact that the monetary losses are much higher in wealthier nations, the results of the CRI emphasize the disproportionate vulnerability of poor nations to climate change. Accordingly, low-income nations also experience much higher instances of existential threats, loss of life and personal hardship than their wealthier counterparts.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that “both risks and vulnerability are systemic and interconnected” (Germanwatch). For example, many at-risk countries, such as the Bahamas and Haiti, are having to deal with the pandemic while simultaneously grappling with extreme weather events such as hurricanes, floods and droughts. In order to build resilience among these countries, they must be protected from different types of risks including climatic, geophysical, economic and health-related.

What’s Being Done? 

The framework for combating climate change is most notably attributed to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), 17 interlinked goals designed to be a “blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.” SDG 13 calls for “taking urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.” Although efforts are being made, and international climate financing has increased over the years, at-risk nations continue to face the harsh reality of the climate crisis.

As discussed during the Climate Ambition Summit in December 2020 and the Global Climate Adaptation Summit in January of this year, supporting the most vulnerable countries requires financial assistance as well as “capacity building through strong partnerships” (Germanwatch). Additionally, it is not enough for at-risk countries to be supported, there must also be significant consequences for those who abuse the environment, thus perpetuating these countries’ struggle. These efforts must happen simultaneously in order to help these nations recover, while also preventing any further degradation.

How is SOIL Helping? 

The impacts of climate change and the pressing need to find sustainable solutions to providing access to basic services that make our planet and people more resilient have helped to frame SOIL’s model. SOIL’s full cycle solution is consciously and practically designed to utilize local resources, prevent environmental contamination and recycle nutrients back into the soil to minimize the footprint of sanitation while nurturing the ecosystem around us.  We are deeply invested in Haiti’s future and are committed to improving climate resiliency through sustainable development. We can all do our part! On this Earth Day consider making a sustained contribution to SOIL’s climate focused sanitation solution.

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