Haitian Studies Association

Working across Disciplines toward an Environmental Understanding for Haiti

Konbit miltidisiplinè pou konesans anviwònman ann Ayiti

“Devastated Landscape,” Henry Nickson, Cap Haitian, 2003, courtesy Elizabeth Deloughry. Photo by Jon Ries.

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The recently convened working group (konbit) on the environment of the Haitian Studies Association (HSA) held its first public presentation at HSA’s 32nd Annual Conference, “Nou La Pi Rèd! Embodying a New Praxis.” The presentation took place in virtual webinar format on the Zoom platform, with live streaming to Facebook, on October 7th. Speakers across disciplines ranging from environmental sciences and agriculture to religion and musicology but with a common interest in the past, present, and future of Haiti’s ecosystems presented problems and perspectives from their research and application. LeGrace Benson moderated. Presenters included Marc Cohen, Evens Emmanuel, Gerdès Fleurant, Ellie Happel, and Jean Wiener. Karen Richman provided a summary, and Rebecca Dirksen announced the Journal of Haitian Studies special issue on the environment. We thank HSA—especially President Mark Schuller, Julio Perez Centeno, and Darlene Dubuisson—for providing the platform and technical support.

Watch the session on YouTube.

The Konbit membership, currently at fifteen, met virtually on December 1. You may find meeting notes here.

We have created a bibliography on the environment, available for viewing here. This is a work-in-progress, and we intend to transfer it to a database, where items may be searched in a variety of ways. The Konbit also aims to place special emphasis on the work of environmentalists on the ground in Haiti. Suggestions are welcome.

Our purpose

Through this working session, we aim to (1) define a set of recommendations for management of Haitian land and natural resources in a time of climate change and profound environmental challenges, and (2) develop more effective models of environmental communication moving forward. Haitian history bears numerous approaches to environmental policy, ranging from excessive resource exploitation (at the level of central government) to a more balanced exchange that sees humans as integral participants within the ecosystem (at the level of a decentralized rural population). The balance of power weighted toward the former pole has brought large-scale destruction of ecosystems and loss of resources. Furthermore, such externally imposed policies as those of the United States Occupation (1915–34) have exacerbated the erosion of Haiti’s ecosystems. Today, Haiti ranks among the most vulnerable nations to climate change.

We hope to include Haitianists from a range of academic disciplines (natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities) and practitioners with diverse language, gender, and generational perspectives. This working session will examine case studies of programs directly involved in such initiatives as shoreline restoration, forestry, water resources management, and sustainable agricultural programs. We are particularly seeking those who can report on cooperative collaborations with ordinary residents, citing their insights, concerns, advice, and resistance. Participants will identify models with the potential to revolutionize policy and compile a set of future possibilities based on grounded realities.


LeGrace Benson (lead convener), legrace.benson@gmail.com

Lois Wilcken (co-convener), makandal@earthlink.net

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