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Linking Climate, Security and Development to Fragility in Haiti

As part of the Fall 2014 Haiti Dialogue Series organized by the Earth Institute’s Haiti Research and Policy Program, a group of faculty, researchers, students and policymakers gathered to discuss the latest research linking climate change, natural hazards, development and fragility in Haiti. 

Participants addressed key questions such as:

  • How are evolving climate risks linked to Haiti’s fragility?
  • What are the main national policy processes and institutions that deal with these risks?
  • What do we know about investment and policy approaches that are sensitive to state fragility and address vulnerability to climate change?
  • What role can G7 countries and others play to help reduce vulnerability?
Fall 2014 Haiti Dialogue Series focused on climate, security, and development linkages in Haiti where discussants spoke about how sensitivity and perceptions of climate in program design and policy priorities. Photo of Roger-Mark DeSouza from the Woodrow Wlison Center's Environmental Change and Security Program. Photo Credit: Elisabeth Sydor, CIESIN.
Fall 2014 Haiti Dialogue Series focused on climate, security, and development linkages in Haiti where discussants spoke about how improve climate resiliency into program design and policy priorities. Photo of Roger-Mark DeSouza from the Woodrow Wlison Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program discussing Caribbean basin climate resiliency programs . Photo Credit: Elisabeth Sydor, CIESIN.

Haiti has one of the world’s highest exposures to natural hazards along with one of the lowest income growth rates. Marc Levy, deputy director of the Center for International Earth Sciences Information Network (CIESIN), commented that this combination has subjected the country to chronic severe stress and trapped it in a downward spiral of economic, environmental and political conditions. Levy further argued that foreign aid has had a band-aid effect on the country, keeping it in a state of equilibrium but not leading to positive recovery.

The pressures from climate shocks such as frequent flooding, hurricane winds, and droughts necessitate collective responses to reduce the impacts. Yet in Haiti both the government and civil society have been slow to respond effectively, sometimes even sitting on the sidelines.  New government programs like Ede Pep, as discussed in the previous Haiti Dialogue Series, offer some initial evidence from the government of changing capacity and structure of interventions.

Sabine Marx, managing director of the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions, discussed her recent research in the south of Haiti on environmental risk perceptions, how people’s day-to-day behavior and activities are influenced by local perception of environmental risks; and how they often misalign both with scientists understanding of risk and with the focus of intervention programs.  The research, based on more than four years of collaboration with the Haiti Research and Policy Program, uses a mental model interview methodology and an extensive household survey to document what families perceive as the most pressing environmental risks: hurricanes and flooding rather than deforestation and climate change. Drawing on another set of associated studies of environmental factors in rural to urban migration trends in the southern peninsula, Marx noted that respondents do not identify environmental degradation and climate change as drivers for migration and that instead residents cited shorter-term concerns of access to education and employment as key elements of migration behavior.

Roger-Mark DeSouza, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program, concluded the opening remarks by discussing regional Caribbean initiatives such as the Caribbean Adaptation to Climate Change Program part of CARICOM to mainstream climate into disaster mitigation and a pilot program for Climate Resilience sponsored by the World Bank. DeSouza noted that many of these initiatives do not include Haiti and are not adapted to the context of a fragile state.

Other points raised during the discussion included that the lack of data undermines resiliency planning and limits effectiveness of responses. Specific data sets mentioned included climate monitoring, measurements of natural hazards like hydrologic systems fluctuations during flood events and national infrastructure mapping of key facilities that are linked to provision of emergency supplies, evacuation points, and health facilities (See previous dialogues series article for more information). This also included the emphasis by the Haiti Research and Policy Program research team on ensuring local downscaled data and analysis is available for communities to incorporate into their planning and local development projects. (Read more about this type of data collection and analysis here).

Recommended readings related to Haiti, Climate and Fragile States:

1) International Crisis Group. (2009). “Haiti: Saving the Environment, Preventing Instability and Conflict,” International Crisis Group, Port-au-Prince/Brussels. Latin America and Caribbean Briefing N°20.

2) Eitzinger, A., Läderach, P., Carmona, S., Navarro, C., and Collet, L. (2013) ‘Prediction of the impact of climate change on coffee and mango growing areas in Haiti. Full Technical Report’, Centro Internacional de Agricultura Tropical (CIAT), Cali, Colombia.

3) Singh, B. and Cohen, M.J. (2014) ‘Climate Change Resilience: The case of Haiti’, Oxford: Oxfam International,

4) Hsiang, S.M., and Jina, A.S. (2014) ‘The causal effect of environmental catastrophe on long-run economic growth: Evidence from 6,700 cyclones’, National Bureau Of Economic Research (working paper).

5) Alex Fischer and Marc A. Levy, (2011) “Designing environmental restoration programs in politically fragile states: Lessons from Haiti,” in C. Bruch, M. Nakayama, and I. Coyle (eds.) Harnessing Natural Resources for PeacebuildingLessons From U.S. and Japanese Assistance,” Washington, D.C.: Environmental Law Institute.

This session is part of the ongoing Haiti Dialogue Series hosted by the Haiti Research and Policy Program at the Earth Institute. This event was co-hosted with the EU Institute of Security Studies, who  represents a consortium of think tanks including Adelphi Research, the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program, and International Alert under a project funded by the G7 Secretariat on behalf of the member states and the European Commission. This consortium is developing a report for G7 foreign ministries with recommendations for better engagement with fragile countries to help reduce climate vulnerability and limit the risks of instability or violent conflict.

For more information about the Haiti Dialogue series please visit our website

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

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