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Haiti aiming to plant 1.2 million trees in a single day

The big dig is planned for May 1. It's part of an ambitious government effort to reforest the country after suffering from landslides and desertification. 

By Rashmee Roshan LallContributor / April 29, 2013

In this picture taken March 21, homes painted in bright colors cover a hill in Jalousie, a cinder-block shantytown in Petionville, Haiti.

Dieu Nalio Chery/AP

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Port-Au-Prince, Haiti

Haiti, one of the world’s most deforested countries, launches its first national tree-planting program next month. President Michel Martelly’s government calls the effort “a big signal” that the administration is determined to reverse environmental degradation and address one of the main causes of poverty on the Caribbean island.

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Stripped of 98 percent of its trees, Haiti suffers deforestation’s impoverishing side effects, like soil erosion, poor agricultural productivity, and desertification. In the three years since the 2010 earthquake, Haiti has been hit by multiple landslides during its six-month rainy season. This adds to the woes of some of its most vulnerable people, already affected by frequent natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes.

The new reforestation drive aims to replace the 30 million to 40 million trees cut down every year for firewood, a common source of fuel for cooking here. The tree planting will take place at seven sites across the country, and 1.2 million saplings will be planted in a single day, May 1, according to Jean Lucien Ligonde, a senior adviser to the Ministry of Environment.

The four-pronged campaign kicks off just 14 days before President Martelly’s second anniversary in office. Some point to the initiative as a political move – a way to signal to the international community that his government is making strides to tackle some of Haiti’s biggest challenges like environmental degradation and its side effects.

The campaign will also seek to educate the public about environmental issues, says Jean Francois Thomas, an environment minister. It will feature radio public service announcements, banners, and pamphlets, and environmental education in all schools. It will also offer “green” cooking fuel as an alternative to wood and use the ministry’s environmental surveillance corps to watch out for illegal logging in protected areas, Mr. Thomas says.

With hands-on technical support from Cuba, $5 million from Venezuela’s Petrocaribe fund, sample pamphlets from Costa Rica, and 1,000 forest guards that it has yet to hire, Haiti is aiming to achieve just under 5 percent tree cover within three years.

'Year of the environment'

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