Poverty is exacerbating Haiti’s environment.
Many Haitians rely on the use of organic matter such as wood, manure and food waste for fuel. These materials are burned indoors and produce a large amount of smoke, which results in indoor air pollution. The smoke often contains harmful compounds such as carbon monoxide and certain carcinogens.
Worldwide, indoor air pollution kills 1.5 million people annually, and it has shortened the average life expectancy of Haitians by approximately six years. Even when fires are outdoors, the close and cramped living conditions in Haiti allow smoke to quickly contaminate large areas.
Women and children are at high risk for smoke-related illness because they spend a significant portion of the day cooking and maintaining smoke-filled residences. They often have not been properly informed of the dangers that constant smoke brings to the home.
There are organizations fighting for Haiti’s environment.
In a country plagued by extreme poverty and political instability, Jean Wiener led community efforts to establish the nation’s first Marine Protected Areas by empowering Haitians to see the long-term value in sustainably managing fisheries and mangrove forests.
Wiener’s parents had plans for him to become a doctor and sent him to pursue a medical education in the United States. During his studies, he reconnected with his childhood love for the ocean and ended up with a degree in marine biology instead.
He returned to Haiti in 1989 and began working in the science department at a local school. While Wiener had seen signs of the damaged marine wildlife during his visits home, he now fully realized the serious extent of the toll the ecosystem had taken from unchecked exploitation. He frequently heard stories from local fishermen of how much harder it was to find fish. “We used to be able to fish for a half day and feed our family for two weeks,” they said. “Now we fish for two weeks and feed our family for a half day.”
Determined to restore the marine wildlife of his childhood and bring sustainable economic opportunities for the people of Haiti, Wiener started the Foundation for the Protection of Marine Biodiversity (FoProBiM)in 1992.
Wiener was the recipient of the GoldMan prize in 2015 for his faithful efforts towards protecting Haiti’s environment.
The Goldman Environmental Prize honors grassroots environmental heroes from the world’s six inhabited continental regions: Africa, Asia, Europe, Islands & Island Nations, North America, and South & Central America. The Prize recognizes individuals for sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk. The Goldman Prize views “grassroots” leaders as those involved in local efforts, where positive change is created through community or citizen participation in the issues that affect them. Through recognizing these individual leaders, the Prize seeks to inspire other ordinary people to take extraordinary actions to protect the natural world.