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HAITI Vs NIGERIA -Case studies in failure of Human Management of natural resources.

The Republic of Haiti, a living testimony to the desire of man, irrespective of colour to achieve freedom, is once again in the news. Haiti has caught recurrent international attention, not because of its progressive socio-political culture, rather for its peculiar affinity with disasters. Haiti is in the news again; this time calling for sombre reflection on the fate of a people so benumbed with tragedies. That Haiti is a disaster is an antithesis to the desires and hopes of its founding fathers who established a 27,750 square kilometres of lush vegetation, and in trademark defiance, retains French as an official language, despite being surrounded by legion of English-speaking neighbours. It is a sad testimony to the efforts of those men and women who denounced slavery in early 18th century that the country has become an international liability, barely able to manage or sustain itself. Toussaint l’Ouverture must be turning in his grave!

The slide into doom for Haiti was gradual and intense. Years of misrule and intense mismanagement gradually turned the lush vegetation of a mountainous region created by Toussaint et al into an environmentally depleted region where deforestation is the norm and poverty an abiding fate. Even the famed powers of the mystical voodoo which has become synonymous with this tropical American region failed to stop the slide into the abyss.  By 1925, Haiti was lush, still retaining 60% of its original forest. However, by the end of the century, an estimated 98% of Haiti’s forest had been lost – used as fuel for cook stoves.  Haiti retains the unenviable record of the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and a leader in tree-felling. The unbearable cost of oil created the environmentally unattractive alternate of charcoal (from burnt trees). This has provided more than 85% of Haiti’s energy need for decades. Denuded mountain slopes have accentuated the tendency towards flooding, mudslides and erosions. By 2004, only 1.4% of Haiti’s forests remained.

Haiti remains a constant site of catastrophe because of its heart-tugging social ills. Poverty remains the chief, also including deforestation, unstable governments, poor building standards and low literacy rates. Or as Professor Richard Olson of the Florida International University puts it, “there is a whole bunch of things working against Haiti, one is the hurricane track, the second is the tectonics and you then have environmental degradation and poverty.” The biting poverty level in Haiti stemmed principally from the tumbling prices of coffee. Katherine Arie (Alert Net, 2004) stated that the tumbling world coffee prices prompted Haitians who were mostly coffee growers to abandon coffee crops that had long been shade-grown, thus turning long preserved trees into sources of fuels for cook stoves. However, the greatest contributor to perpetual poverty and economic marginalization was the perennial cycle of corruption borne out of political dictatorship and instability starting from the era of President “Papa Doc” Duvalier. Thereafter, President “Baby Doc” Duvalier and his wife Michelle ruthlessly diverted state wealth into personal use and it was estimated that over $504 million was lost from the public treasury between 1971 and 1986. Aristide, a Christian pastor who later became President, not only epitomised corruption, but also made drug-trafficking a major industry. The end-result of incessant misrule and poverty is a shattered social infrastructures, massive social deprivations, citizens living in a culture of fear and a very high rate of HIV/AIDS (affecting 4.5% of the population).

The grinding effects of un-abating poverty in Haiti include the emergence of slums and slip-shod houses. This was accentuated by rural to urban migration and lack of a proper housing policy. Of course, Haiti has been hurricane-focused for a long while but it had always been known that it lies within the earthquake realm. Tom Dixon of the University of Miami identified a southern zone fault where the earthquake of Tuesday January 12, 2010 occurred. This was a quake of 7.0 magnitude with an epicentre 16 miles west of Port-au-Prince and one that would remain in memory as one of the worst human disasters ever witnessed. The ground work for the disaster was completed long before it manifested – unwavering poverty, monumental corruption and government failure and lack of resources to quake-proof buildings and structures. Even the presidential office ironically termed a “palace” was not spared.  The country’s lack of early warning system had left people unaware and unprepared. In the words of Debarati Guha Sapir (director of World Health Organisation’s Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters), vulnerability to natural disasters is almost a direct function of poverty. For this to be the deadliest quake on record, the death toll would have to top the 2004 Asian tsunami that killed more than 227,000 and a 1976 China earthquake that killed 225,000 (US Geological Survey).

The recent earthquake in Haiti would be the 15th disaster the country would be facing since 2001. A timeline for the disasters indicate:

1770 – Earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince

1842 – Earthquake destroyed Cap-Haitien and other cities

1935 – Unnamed storm killed over 2000 people

1946 – Tsunamis killed 1,790

1954 – Hurricane Hazel killed over 1000

1963 – Hurricane Flora killed over 8000 people making it the 6th most deadly hurricane ever

1994 – Hurricane Gordon killed hundreds

1998 – Hurricane Georges destroys over 80% of the crops

2004 – Hurricane Jeanne, which actually passed the north of the country as a tropical storm dumping 13 inches of rains on the northern mountains, resulted in floods which killed over 3000 people.

PS: It should be noted that Jeanne and Gordon were not even hurricanes by the time they struck Haiti. They were just tropical storms but still capable of wreaking havoc in an environmentally depleted country. It does not even require a tropical storm to cause havoc in Haiti. It was also reported that three days of about 18 inches of heavy rainfall triggered floods that killed over 2600 people in May of 2004.

2007 – Tropical storm Noel triggered mudslides and floods

2008 – Three hurricanes and tropical storm killed over 800 people

2010 – Quake hits Port-au-Prince killing thousands with estimates running to over 200,000 people.

The Nigerian Situation

Debarati Guha Sapir stated that vulnerability to natural disasters is almost a direct function of poverty. In these eternal words lay a very strong message for Nigeria. While the outpouring of emotions and sympathy on the part of Nigerians remain commendable in the event of the Haitian quake, the sad fact is that our dear country is not immune from calamities. In fact, we seem to be on an unavoidable path towards the fate currently befalling Haiti. While Haiti may be said to be primarily an agro-based economy primary dependent on coffee crops for sustenance, Nigeria seems to be multi-dimensional but not practically faring better. The monumental wealth from crude oil which has massively transformed other economies has so far failed to impact positively on the Nigerian citizenry. By the UN estimates of 2009, Haiti has a population of about 1 million whilst Nigeria has about 150 million people. Herein, the difference ends. In terms of other socio-economic indices, the closeness between the two countries make for a very uncomfortable reading, definitely not reflecting the obvious resource-based and population advantages of Nigeria. Here is a Central Intelligence Agency fact file on the two countries:

 

 Country
Haiti
 Nigeria
 Population  9,035,536   
  149,229,090
 GDP (purchasing power parity)  $11.53 billion (2008 est.) 
 $336.2 billion (2008 est.)
 country comparison to the world   145   36
 GDP (official exchange rate)  $6.943 billion (2008 est.)    
 $207.1 billion (2008 est.)
 GDP – real growth rate  1.3% (2008 est.)  
  5.3% (2008 est.)
 country comparison to the world:   168    
 82
 note: data are in 2008 US dollars    
     
     


note: data are in 2008 US dollars

GDP – composition by sector

agriculture: 28%                                                               agriculture: 18.1%*

industry: 20%                                                                   industry: 50.8%

services: 52% (2004 est.)                                                 services: 31.1% (2008 est.) *                                             

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life expectancy at birth**

total population: 60.78 years                                             total population: 46.94 years    

country comparison to the world: 181                              country comparison to the world: 212

male: 59.13 years                                                              male: 46.16 years

female: 62.48 years (2009 est.)                                         female: 47.76 years (2009 est.)

 

HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate

2.2% (2007 est.)                                                                3.1% (2007 est.)

country comparison to the world: 28                                 country comparison to the world: 23

Population below poverty line

 

80% (2003 est.)                                                                70% (2007 est.)

(Source: Central Intelligence Agency: The World Fact Book. Available online: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html)

 

Despite Nigeria’s obvious advantages as reflected in our various GDPs, it is disheartening to note that generally, life expectancy is higher in Haiti than in Nigeria. Also, there is just a marginal difference in the number of people living below the poverty line as compared to Haiti. These are not heart warming statistics for Nigeria, a nation that managed to crawl out of low to medium category in the Human Development Index (HDI) list in 2009.

Environmental degradation is no strange bed fellow to Nigeria. Deforestation is a perennial problem that government efforts are yet to provide a solution to.  Nigeria currently has one of the highest rates of forest loss (3.3%) in the world – does this smack of Haiti? Since 1990, Nigeria has lost some 6.1 million hectares or 35.7% of its forest cover – another Haiti in the making?  Between 1990 and 2005, Nigeria has lost a staggering 79% of its biodiverse ecosystems (old-growth forests) and has been losing an average of 11% of its primary forests per year – double the rate of the 1990s. Thus, Nigeria has the dubious distinction of having the highest deforestation rate of natural forest on earth.

Nigeria’s wildlife population has also plummeted from poaching and habitat loss. This has contributed to the increasing problem with desertification and soil erosion. The teeming urban and rural populations of south east Nigeria are daily living with the miseries induced by severe erosions. Of concern is the severe environmental degradation going on in the Niger Delta of Nigeria. It is sad that despite the riches that this region has contributed to our national economy, it is still a region of perpetual conflicts, hatred, under-development and pronounced abject poverty – no thanks to the failures of the Nigerian state.

The Niger Delta

The Niger Delta is a riverine area sitting atop a land mass of about 70,000 square kilometres (about three times the size of Haiti) with a population of about 2000 communities. The environmental pollutions in this region include marine and air pollution, oil spillage, gas flaring, land degradation, sedimentation, siltation and biodiversity depletion. A department of petroleum resources indicated that over 95% of the oil spillage in this region is never recovered. Here is a region that faces acid rain, gas flaring and other gaseous emissions from various sources, including vehicular emissions. Nigeria is reputed to flare more natural gas associated with oil extraction than any other country on earth, costing the country more than US $2.5 billion per year.  To have a proper dimension of this natural waste, the amount of associated gas (AG) wasted annually in Nigeria equals 25% of total UK gas consumption and about 40% of the entire African continent’s gas needs by 2001 estimate. The environment can do better without gas flaring. AG can be used or re-injected into the ground as obtains in Western Europe. Gas flaring remains a condemnable act by the international community as it is noted to contribute significantly to climate change consequences of which would be extremely severe in a developing country like Nigeria and the semi-arid Sahel regions of sub-Saharan Africa. Alarmingly, the Niger Delta covers low-lying plain areas which are very vulnerable as they lay only a few metres above sea level.

Seismic activities in Nigeria

And if there is any delusion as to our immunity from earthquakes, the mild earth tremor in the Southwestern Nigeria in 2006 should serve as a wake-up call. Though not specifically within the major earthquake zones of the world, cases of landslides, coastal erosions, and earth tremors have been recorded. The history of earth tremors in Nigeria dates back to 1939 (Akpan et al, 2009). Remote sensing, geological and geophysical studies revealed have revealed what is popularly known as the “Ifewara fault zone” which has been linked with the Atlantic fractured system. Fractures often predispose to natural hazards such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, tsunami and earth tremors. The first reported occurrence of an earth tremor in Nigeria was in 1939 in Lagos, Ibadan and Ile-Ife, all in the southwestern part of the country. Subsequent occurrences have been documented for 1984, 1990, 1997, 2000 and 2006 with intensities ranging from III to IV on the Modified Mercalli Intensity Scale. Though Nigeria is reported to have commenced the establishment of a Nigerian National Network of Seismic Stations in cities like Abuja, Kaduna, Ile-Ife, Awka, Abakaliki, Minna, Ibadan, Nsukka and Oyo town, the ponder is on what measures we have pro-actively taken as a nation to prevent a natural calamity of the Haitian magnitude from occurring in our country.

Conclusion

Ecological disasters magnified by many years of chaotic planning, infrastructural inadequacies and bad governance are gradually taking their toll on Nigeria. Carbon monoxide poisoning and severe noise pollution arising from incessant power problems are time bombs which our fragile economy may not be able to withstand. Our problem is not helped by lack of committed political and visionary leadership. While the stress on nature and environment is eating deep into the fabrics of our geographical boundaries, the nation is immersed in horrifying mundane problems of social instability borne out of political prevarications and insincerity. Poverty is a visitor many Nigerians have no option but to embrace. Yet, the words of Debarati Guha rings clearly, sending out its ominous warning to those willing to listen – vulnerability to natural disasters is almost a direct function of poverty.

 

Bibliography

1.       Seth Borenstein. July 2010. Haiti history: A disaster-prone zone. Accessed online at http://www.3news.co.nz/Haiti-history-A-disaster-prone-nation//tabid/417/articleID/137257/Default.aspx.

2.       Katherine Arie. AletNet. Sep 2004. Talking Point: Why is Haiti so prone to disaster? Acceesed online at http://www.alertnet.org/the facts/reliefresources/109655418734.htm

3.       Jeffrey Masters. Hurricanes and Haiti: A Tragic History. Accessed online at http://www.underground.com/education/haiti.asp

4.       Wikipedia – the free encycopedia. Accessed online at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haiti

5.       Akpan, O.U, Yakubu, T.A & Ologun, C.O. 2009. Seismic activities in Southwestern Nigeria. Accessed online at http://www.iaspei.org/downlaods/Abstracts 2009/S8.pdf

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