World Day to Combat Desertification and Draught

The impact that desertification processes have on migrant populations who are being forced to abandon their homes and countries of residence to survive, is being analyzed during the past years. According to the UN Environment Programme, desertification threatens a quarter of the planet's lands. These lands are populated by over 1 billion people who survive in draught conditions and lack of food. Desertification advances every year in around 6 million hectares world wide with no hope of recovery.

Entreculturas, very much aware of the importance that these migration processes are having nowadays and its influence on the livelihood of the countries where we support education programmes, has started to work on the analysis of this phenomenon in addition to supporting programmes in favour of this population's rights.


Desertification and Migrations

There are more than 100 million people in the world who suffer exodus threats due to nourishment insecurity. To these millions we should add the 25 million who have already been forced to migrate.


 Desertification is the transformation of lands used for crops or grazing in desert or semi desert lands, with the diminishing of productivity by 10% or more. If desertification has a loss of between 10 and 25% it is considered moderate. It is considered severe if the loss is between 25 and 50%. Very severe is considered above this percentage.

Desertification means hunger, poverty, wars. In spite of this, it is still not yet on the frontline of the international political agenda.

Experts on desertification and migrations are starting to advocate for the international recognition of the status of "Ecological Refugee" which could be applied to the 25 million people forced to migrate due to the desertification of their lands. Since the situation of these people is not internationally recognized, there are no structures to assist them as in the case of those forced to abandon their homes for other reasons.

This demand was launched by Wangari Maathai, form Kenya, Peace Nobel Prize Winner in 2004, the day of the enforcement of the Kioto Protocol in February 2005.


Haiti, a country in displacement

Haiti is America's poorest country. Deforestation is one of the factors, together with economic degradation and the persistent political unstable situation which impacts directly on the poverty situation and the subsequent migrations mainly towards Dominican Republic.

Forests used to cover more that nine tenths of Haiti. Today, scarcely 2% is  forested. Deforestation with no further planting has eroded the soils.

Haiti's deforestation is due mainly to two reasons. On one hand the agricultural needs of an over populated country with 8, 5 million that in order to farm the land needs to cut the trees. On the other hand, Haiti's energy, both domestic and industrial, comes from wood and coal according to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Almost 85% of the country is mountain land. Deforestation makes the heavy rains during the wet season form dirty torrents taking massive superficial soil towards the sea. This means the loss of productive soil.

Erosion also has repercussion in rivers. Sediments pile up in streams, rivers and lakes, killing fluvial fauna and obstructing irrigation systems in fertile areas. Soils dumped in the sea hurt sea life, affecting the fishing industry.

The unstable situation of the soil, produced by deforestation makes the ground very vulnerable and the loss of natural barriers can cause a catastrophe like the floods in May 2004 when 1.200 people died.

Our local partner in Haiti and Dominican Republic, the Jesuit Refugee and Migrant Service, JRMS, denounces this situation in the North of the country which is also an area marginalized by the Haitian State. Regional Offices do not have sufficient structures, means, equipment and personnel with access to an adequate training to offer basic social services (education, health, roads...). 94% of this area's population lives in poverty and 84% in extreme poverty.

 The JRMS considers that  this situation fosters all kinds of illegal traffic (arms, drugs, migrants) smuggling and illegal trade with the violation of the population's rights. A population with its women suffering constant sexual abuses, the hijacking of public transport to rob, rape and humiliate passengers and illegal arrests in detention centres with no minimal hygiene conditions.

All this forces the Haitian population to leave their homes and seek refuge in neighbouring countries.



Haitian's situation in Dominican Republic.

But migration for Haitians does not necessarily mean a dignified life.

Haitian migrants are the victims, in many cases, of labour exploitation by Dominican employers and xenophobia from the neighbouring country's inhabitants. The JRMS denounces that these migrants are deported, almost daily by the Dominican State in an inhuman way.

Among the Haitian deported (and in a lesser degree, Dominicans of Haitian origin and black skin) are mothers with newborn babies, pregnant women about to give birth, parents separated from their children, unaccompanied minors, people infected by AIDS...

The JRMS demand the Haitian State and Government authorities to implement, in agreement with the Dominican authorities, efficient and clear policies to regulate the Haitian migrants to Dominican territory and the exchanges among both countries, always respecting and applying the Treaties ( at all levels, international, regional and bi-national) signed and ratified by both countries on Human Rights issues.


Entreculturas´ stand on Haitian migration 

Entreculturas supports a programme in the Northern border of Haiti with Dominican Republic for the development  of a new border citizen, a citizen who will understand that peaceful and respectful living among Haitians and Dominicans will improve relations between both countries and will mean a mutual benefit for its citizens. The programme is carried out by "Solidaridad Fronteriza" which is the name given to the JRMS in this area of Islet de la Española.

Work is carried out both with the Haitian and Dominican population at both sides of the border to encourage, through workshops, respect, self esteem and human rights.

It also works for change in the attitudes of the Administration, the army and other professionals with social influence such as reporters and lawyers, towards the migrants.

The JRMS also works to strengthen civil associations in the area to raise their voice and influence municipal decisions and activity together with strong advocacy work in Dominican Republic. It is also starting to support income generating projects, mainly focused on agriculture and improving trade skills.