Schoolgirls in Haiti: refugees in a devastated land

Photo credit: © Mark Edwards/Still Pictures

These beautifully dressed children live in Cite Soleil, a shanty settlement of 300,000 people in Port au Prince, the capital of Haiti. It is the densest slum in the Western Hemisphere.

Like yellow butterflies, they run to school from homes made from cardboard packing cases and old metal sheeting, across muddy puddles of rainwater, laden with sewage.

Their mothers are environmental refugees in a land once so rich it was the pearl of the French empire. But today, its dense forests cover only two per cent of the land. With a history of corrupt government, grossly skewed land holding and a population density of 270 per square kilometre, the steep-sloping farmland is heavily eroded and many of its people have no option but to head for the city.

They are among the world's estimated 25 million environmental refugees. Impelled to leave their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, climate change and the pressures of poverty and population, their numbers could increase rapidly in the next 50 years, according to a study by Dr Norman Myers.

Haiti alone, has seen 1.3 million people (or one in five of its population) leave the island to seek a better life elsewhere. Many others, like these families, find themselves struggling to survive in very poor living conditions.

Source: People & the Planet, Vol. 3, No 4.

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