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Mission Study: Haiti

Reframing Recovery to Achieve Environmental Justice in Haiti

By Linda Beher

During its 21-year occupation of Haiti, the United States concentrated nearly all economic resources and investments in the capital city, Port-au-Prince. Haiti's other population centers and rural areas received few benefits, spurring a severe decline in the outlying departments. Now some leaders are rethinking this practice of centralization in light of the massive recovery ahead of Haitians.

Danielle St. Lot, former minister of commerce in Haiti, says 80 percent of the pre-quake economy in Haiti was based in the capital. The earthquake not only demolished buildings and lives—it demolished significant aspects of the economy.

Ms. St. Lot wants to change all this by reframing the opportunity for women to lead economic recovery and growth. Her suggestion, made during an interview with National Public Radio host Tony Cox, is to relocate women away from Port-au-Prince to towns and regions that in their proximity to new economic opportunities are more appropriate—in other words, to decentralize the recovery efforts.

Agreeing with Ms. St. Lot is Leslie Desmangles, Trinity College professor who received honors from the American Anthropological Association for his work on Haiti's religions. Mr. Desmangles also encourages the relocation of factories and cottage industries away from the city center into the more thinly populated areas as a way of providing access to jobs in those facilities.

In a similar reframing of the solution, the Lambi Fund of Haiti is working with grass-roots leaders and farmers in less populated areas to figure out the appropriate technology for economic sustainability.

According to Lambi Fund's website, some local women's groups have requested and been granted numerous hand-powered mills to process their small corn harvests; these mills were placed in several villages throughout the countryside, providing accessible, easy-to-run equipment for their use.

As an added bonus, the women placed pens of chickens beneath the mills to eat the grain that falls to the ground, providing an extra source of protein for the women's families. In another area, Lambi covered the costs of providing one large diesel-driven mill, housed in a permanent structure. In each case, Lambi made use of local Haitian expertise to assemble the mills in ways that fit the local geography and took into account the local population and the amount of corn to be milled.

These efforts are examples of how Haitians are leading the way toward a recovery that they can sustain.

Last Updated: 04/14/2014

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