Wasteland – Charcoal in Haiti

No meadows bud, joyous with verdant view,
no ripened corn waves in the gentle breeze;
not any grove has fruit- producing boughs;
the barren desert of the abysmal fields lies all untilled,
and the foul land lies torpid in endless sloth,
sad end of things, the world’s last estate.

-Hercules Furens Seneca, Commentary on Canto 13 Dante’s Inferno

Once a lush island covered in trees Haiti is now 98 percent deforested. Twenty million trees are felled each year to meet the demand for the island’s primary fuel source; charcoal. The poor have little choice but to continue to produce and burn charcoal as it is essential to the most basic of needs. The Haitian government has no environmental regulations and provides no subsidiaries for alternative fuels, which has led to a situation of environmental catastrophe. During the rainy season nutrient rich topsoil washes away into the sea making it impossible to grow food and hundreds die from flash flooding. Haiti is quickly reaching an irrecoverable state where the majority of the island will succumb to desertification and become inhabitable.

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A lone figure surveys the patchwork landscape. Desperate for fuel and income the poor chop down 10 million to 20 million trees each year.

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A hillside stands bald and barren scarred from years of deforestation. Charcoal production and logging has left Haiti's countryside in ruins and today only 1.4% of Haiti's land remains forested.

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A 10-year-old boy wanders around a cement mine. After the mountains are clear cut they are often converted for mining, the heavy rains wash the silt into the ocean, which kills fish and other wildlife.

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A worker cuts down a rare old growth tree to make room for a government funded 'park'. This particular tree will be chopped into smaller pieces and turned into charcoal.

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On the Ille de la Gonave charcoal farmers cut and stack wood into piles which are then burned into charcoal. The piles will 'cure' for two weeks and then the charcoal will be bagged and sent for distrubution in Les Arcahaie. La Gonave was once covered with lush forests and vegetation but logging has turned the climate arid and makes it near impossible to grow food.

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A charcoal farmer checks his charcoal. La Gonave has become a major supplier of charcoal to Haiti because the majority of the mainland has been deforested. This man was once a rice farmer but because of cheap imported American rice he was forced to start producing charcoal to support his family.

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A charbonnière at the charcoal market in Port-au-Prince.

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A charcoal market worker also known as a charbonnière. The workers at the market spend 12 hours a day in the blistering sun on their hands and knees sorting charcoal into various sizes.

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The coastal charcoal market in the town of Arcahaie. Charcoal is sorted and loaded onto trucks for distribution, each bag weighs about 60lbs. Haiti uses approximetely 720,000 metric tons of charcoal annually.

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A charbonnière worker. The workers at the market spend 12 hours a day in the blistering sun on their hands and knees sorting charcoal.

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An older charbonnière. Worker's ages range from as young as 10 to as old as 80.

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Workers take a rare break from loading charcoal into trucks at the market in Les Arcahaie.

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A worker stitches up a bag of charcoal. The bags are primarily made from reused sacks of imported American rice.

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Workers load charcoal into the trucks at the market in Les Arcahaie.

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Charcoal is delivered to Les Arcahaie via boat from the Ille de la Gonave.

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The 'charbonnière' (charcoal workers) make deliveries in Port-au-Prince from the market in Les Arcahaie. Charcoal is used for 76 percent of Haiti’s energy needs and must be delivered daily to meet demand.

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Charcoal workers unload charcoal in Port-au-Prince.

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At the end of a long day the charbonnière make their final deliveries in Port-au-Prince.