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After the earthquake: Haiti's deforestation needs attention

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Here's a photo from NASA and another from a National Geographic story in the 1980s.

Fewer than 100,000 acres of forest remain in Haiti, a country that was three-quarters tree-covered when European explorers first arrived 500 years ago. The nation, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, has lost perhaps 98 percent of its tree cover, one of the worst cases of deforestation in the world.

By most accounts, cooking fires are the major culprit behind the nation's loss of trees. Haitians use trees as fuel either by burning the wood directly, or by first turning it into charcoal in ovens. Seventy-one percent of all fuel consumed in Haiti is wood or charcoal, according to the US Agency for International Development.

Every year, the country's 9 million (and growing) inhabitants burn a quantity of wood and charcoal equal to 30 million trees, according to this essay. That's 20 million more trees than Haiti grows yearly.

The Dominican Republic largely put a halt to this practice by banning it outright, and then by subsidizing propane fuel as a substitute. According to Greenwire, however, an illegal charcoal trade is thriving along the border of the two countries. Charcoal cartels have cut down trees on the Dominican side for sale on the Haitian side. (In December, three people were killed on the Dominican side in a charcoal trade-related dispute.)

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