Protecting mangroves from plastic pollution in Haiti

Jack Durrell
13 November 2017
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Global campaign makes shoreline litter clean up a priority

(Landscapes News) – Mangroves are essential for the viability and resilience of coastal communities: they act as a buffer against extreme weather events such as hurricanes; they stabilize coastlines and slow soil erosion rates; and they provide habitats for marine life; providing a source of food and supporting fisheries.

Unfortunately, many are disappearing at an alarming rate. About half the world’s mangroves, some 32 million hectares (79 million acres), have been cleared or destroyed, and those that remain are under constant threat, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Haiti is no exception. On this island nation of 10.6 million people, the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere where almost 60 percent of the population is living in poverty, mangroves have been cleared to produce charcoal, a cheap source of fuel. Increasingly, these fragile environments are also being degraded by plastic pollution as Haiti struggles to manage its waste effectively, particularly along the southern coast where the country’s burgeoning tourist industry is centered.

Overall, less than 4 percent of land in Haiti is forested, largely due to deforestation for fuel or agricultural uses.

Integrated waste management plan 

Mangrove exposure to plastic pollution has increased in recent years due to an increase in the number of informal landfills inland. One of the worst affected areas is the region surrounding the coastal city of Les Cayes. This seaport city, with a population of 100,000 people, has an extremely popular, and polluted, beach which attracts many visitors each year.

In an effort to reverse pollution and protect the mangroves nearby, Les Cayes teamed up with the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) to bring together a coalition of civil society groups, businesses, and municipal authorities to develop an integrated waste management plan that combines efforts to reduce and recycle.

The collaboration included a promotional campaign initiated at the Gelee Festival, the biggest annual celebration in southern Haiti which is held in Les Cayes each year. With long-term sustainability in mind, the campaign recruited 100 teenagers to attend a five-week summer camp where they were taught how to engage and sensitize visitors about waste and other environmental issues.

Plans are afoot to formalize waste management and conservation efforts through the establishment of an organization that can strengthen partnerships with restaurants and vendors and supervise clean-up operations. Additional measures will include a managed landfill, increased recycling operations, and the more efficient transport of waste to prevent dumping in informal landfill sites.

Global commitment to reducing pollution 

The efforts in Les Cayes form part of a global commitment to tackle pollution. UNEP has developed a framework – Towards a Pollution-Free Planet – which calls for political leadership and partnerships; policies that target hard-hitting pollutants; new sustainable consumption and production processes; increased investments to drive innovation; and advocacy to inform and inspire action.

The Agency will also use the upcoming U.N. Environmental Assembly in Nairobi (Dec. 4 to 6, 2017) to encourage governments, business sectors and civil society organizations to deliver tangible commitments to safely manage chemicals, waste and end pollution, including the pollution of waterways and marine life.

The pledges are recognized as tangible contributions to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically: SDG 6, ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all; SDG 11, a commitment to making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable; SDG 12, responsible sustainable consumption and production patterns; and SDG 14, conserving and sustainably using the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.

An online social media campaign hash tagged #BeatPollution, states that pollution kills more than 1.7 million young children each year, roughly a quarter of deaths among children under age 5.


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