For HAS' service area in the upper communes of the Artibonite Valley, hurricanes most often mean a lot of rain, and this was indeed the case with Tomas, which hit Haiti last weekend. Although Dechapelles did not face the same high winds and destructive storm surge as did the South, our region sustained heavy rainfall, which threatens infrastructure, the environment, and public health. In brief, this kind of heavy rain can cause flash flooding that washes out roads and overburdens dams; it washes barren hillsides down to bedrock, and there have been speculations (as of this entry unsubstantiated, fortunately), that the overflowing of public water sources could prompt a worsening of the recent cholera outbreak.
The mountainous areas where HTRIP is working are particularly susceptible to the immediate and long-term effects of heavy rainfall. With Haiti's current environmental situation at crisis point (98% deforested), there is little forest cover to encourage seepage into steep, denuded hillsides, and valuable topsoil is washed into ravines on its way to the Artibonite River and, eventually, the Caribbean. Our organization’s mission is to plant trees to improve agricultural practices and livelihoods in the mountain communities in HAS' catchment area while fighting environmental degradation. Tree roots are deeper and more extensive than those of annual crops like maize and sorghum, so they are an excellent vehicle for soil retention and rainwater absorption—although HTRIP has previously collaborated on larger anti-erosion projects like the water catchment basins and "ravine correction" walls constructed last summer, planting trees is one of the most basic watershed management strategies available to fight the effects of the heavy rain that comes with a hurricane... and we and our partner communities do a lot of it. A storm like Tomas, simply put, reaffirms the importance of the work we do.