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UN Reveals Worsening Of Environmental Problems In Haiti Following The Earthquake

By Dialogo
March 15, 2010

Haiti’s environmental problems have become a great deal worse following January’s earthquake, which generated hundreds of tons of medical waste that no one knows how to manage and has created strong pressures on the scant forest resources that remain on the island. Before the natural disaster, Haiti was already considered the country with the most degraded environment in the Western Hemisphere and only preserved three percent of its original forests. On the two-month anniversary of the earthquake, which left 230,000 dead, Andrew Morton, program manager for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), revealed that the first evaluation of its environmental impact has produced alarming results. He said that as a consequence of the medical care given to tens of thousands of people injured by the earthquake, the volume of medical waste has tripled, without the capacity to handle it appropriately. The traditional way of managing garbage in Haiti has been to collect it for incineration or transport it in trucks to dump sites, where groups of people recycle some of the discarded material to earn their living. “We need to separate the garbage and handle it separately, and the most practical measures are to import containers to segregate the waste and repair the incinerators,” which were damaged as a result of the earthquake, he indicated at a press conference in Geneva. Morton explained that medical waste is dangerous because it can lead to outbreaks of infectious disease. He added that Haiti also needs to solve the problem of millions of tons of garbage generated directly by the earthquake, “and it’s not only concrete and construction materials, but also everything that was inside the houses, such as wood, plastic, metal, clothing, etc.” The UNEP representative in Haiti acknowledged that another challenge for which it is difficult to find a solution is the official project to offer temporary shelter to half a million Haitians for the next two years. The idea is that these dwellings will be made of wood, “but the big problem is that there isn’t any in Haiti,” so that Morton urged the massive import of this material using the financial assistance Haiti has received. In this regard, the UN revealed today that the international contributions it is receiving to rebuild the Caribbean country are insufficient in the face of the size of the need. The multilateral body’s appeal for funds for Haiti, requesting 1.4 billion dollars for one year, “is only 49 percent financed,” the spokesperson for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Elizabeth Byrs, lamented. “The contributions have stagnated. Two weeks ago, this appeal was financed at more or less the same level,” she specified. Meanwhile, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) indicated that schools are expected to reopen on 1 April and that for this purpose, 1,400 tents, each 72 square meters in size, are expected to be set up to shelter 200,000 children.