Sur ce site

Accueil du site > Equipes de Recherche > Dégradation environnementale, risques de catastrophe : construction et vulnérabilité dans les Caraïbes > Findings

Environmental degradation, disaster risk construction and vulnerability in the Caribbean


Fonds Verrettes is a municipality situated 40-50 kilometers from Port au Prince, Haiti. It is a predominantly mountainous area and its population is estimated at 29,567 inhabitants. It is a part of the pine forest reserve which, due to the extreme activity of the cutting of trees in an exaggerated manner, is on the road to being deforested. The river, Soliette, was the river which flooded in 2004 up to a distance of 500 meters. Tamayo is one of the largest municipalities (341 km2) in the Dominican Republic, although with a low population density (29 hab/km2), it’s total population is 9,8985 inhabitants. From the economic view point, Tamayo depends on agriculture, mainly the cultivation of the “platano” plantain, whose production is based on irrigation. The municipality of Tamayo is bordered on its southern side by the Yaque del Sur River, which is the key to it’s dynamic agricultural activity, but also the cause of it’s disasters.

Both communities were victims of disasters caused by the hazards they mentioned have existed in their communities for a long time. These were Hurricane Georges, which hit the country in 1998, and seriously affected Tamayo, and the 2004 flooding in Haiti that seriously affected Fonds Verrettes. Our surveys and in depth interviews detail how these events affected the communities and how they reacted.

The risk of a natural disaster was considered the principal community problem by the majority of the surveyed population, although with more intensity in Fonds Verrettes (90%) than in Tamayo (66%), where the access to water was considered by 18% of the surveyed population as the main problem. However, to keep on residing in the community is an undisputable fact for the residents of Tamayo, given that 90% of them do not consider moving from the community. In Fonds Verrettes, the population thinks differently and 54% are planning to move. In Fonds Verrettes the principal cause for moving would be the flooding and/or natural disasters and the proximity of the river (79%) and in Tamayo, the flooding and the disasters (75%).

In the case of the Dominican Republic, most of the interviews (including focus group discussions) did not mention environmental degradation (ED) as a cause of concern. The most frequently mentioned ED problem is climate change. The other ED subcategories all were mentioned with the same frequency, deforestation, “the smaller flow” of the river, the change in its course. The quality of the water, saline, was mentioned and the fact that there is no control of sewage water. In the case of Fonds Verrettes, the amount of times that the topic of deforestation appears in the interviews, twenty times, shows the importance the community gives to this topic. The topic is mentioned related to current disasters, such as flooding. It is also mentioned as a present phenomenon which threatens security.

Deforestation is also mentioned as a cause for climate change, specifically changes in rainfall patterns, and the subcategory of climate change is mentioned three times. There is an important difference regarding this topic between the two communities under study which may be indicative of attitudes which pertain to each country. The Haitian community of Fonds Verrettes seems to be very conscious of the environmental problem which their community and their country face.

Disasters provoked by human action do not have the same histories in the two communities under study. In Fonds Verrettes, only 8% of the population recognizes that the community has been affected by this type of disaster, identifying only the problem of environmental degradation caused by deforestation. In Tamayo, differently, 78% of the population indicated that the community had been affected by this type of disasters, identifying fires caused by human carelessness (56% of the cases) and fires caused by electrical short circuiting (44% of the cases) as the main hazards. In Haiti the cutting of trees was considered an anthropogenic hazard, a perspective which is not present in the Dominican Republic. It was mentioned that the fact that they don’t have electricity could be a safety asset, since there is no danger of electricity-caused hazards as are often seen in the Dominican Republic.

Regarding the gender roles in disasters, there was not much response to this topic in the interviews. People seemed to pass over the topic with no direct answers. But when pressured there were some responses. There are very great differences in these responses in both countries. In the case of Haiti, there was very little response regarding women’s role during disaster. Most of the answers referred to traditional vulnerabilities : women are more vulnerable because they are at home, in charge of the children. In the case of the Dominican Republic, the topic received more reactions from the interviewees individually as well as in the focus groups, although the majority did not mention or pursue it as in Haiti. But regarding women, most of the comments made referred to the fact that women play a traditional role during disasters, care taking of children home and extended family. In most cases this was considered as a capacity : women more capable to deal with the disaster situation because they took care of the home and the children and cared for the feeding of the family. In most cases men’s traditional role in disasters was mentioned : activities requiring physical strength : saving women, carrying women and children to shelters and staying in the homes to care for these, swimming to save women, carrying household goods .

The Strategies category of investigation was subcategorized into : networks, production and use of materials for emergency situations, relocation and the building or improvement of infrastructure in the home or in the productive area. In depth interviews and focus groups tell us that, in the case of the Dominican Republic, during and after the disaster, the most important strategy recurred to were the networks, family and neighbours who helped out during the emergency, saving each other, helping to swim to shelter, and in recovery and reconstruction, by taking family and neighbours in even for months until they could reconstruct homes. Also the money from abroad sent by international family networks which helped in this reconstruction. It was mentioned often that diverse materials were used during the flood to save themselves or neighbours, such as homemade rafts and the building of “barbacoas” or “soberaos”, an extra wood shelf, next to the ceiling, to store material goods and keep them dry. Infrastructure measures were also taken, by building high walls around their homes and “conucos” or plots of farmland. It is very significant that in five interviews the interviewees made no comments of any specific strategy used or measure taken during or after the disaster. In Fonds Verrettes, the most frequent strategy or measure taken was to relocate, to move to higher ground after the flooding passed. This is something the majority of the interviewees express as something they are doing or would like to do in the near future. As was mentioned, there have been construction projects by international agencies, but most people have to relocate for themselves. Networks were mentioned also, family and neighbours who gave shelter, places to sleep and food, for up to two years in one case.

There were also questions in the survey which referred to the concern of national authorities in relation to the repetition of another disaster in the future. The answers to these questions were more positive, since in the case of Tamayo 66% of the interviewees consider that government authorities at the national level are concerned that such an eventuality could happen. In Fonds Verrettes, 46% are of the same opinion. In both communities there were varied opinions to demonstrate the interest of the central government in the topic of disasters. In Tamayo, 24% of the persons interviewed spoke of the construction of the wall or the interest of the government to finish this project.

For the analysis of vulnerability, the team followed the vulnerability factors categorized by Wilches-Chaux. In the Dominican Republic, most of the in depth interviews stressed the fact that the community lacked emergency related resources, personnel and actions. This would be categorized as organizational vulnerability, but we specify these answers as organizational disaster specific. These included, lack of early warning, or as interviewees mentioned lack of timely and efficient information ; lack of shelter management, no institutional resources or capacity for disaster management, and lack of an adequate policy framework. This was clear in expressions such as “disaster prevention and risk management, or emergency work is not on the agenda of politicians, local or national”.