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Pollution, ecology and health-environment: the need for a
new education for citizenship in Haiti
Alexandra Emmanuela,b et Evens Emmanuela,c1
Groupe Haïtien d’Études et de Recherche en Environnement et Santé (GHERES), BP 15888
Association Haïtienne Femmes, Science et Technologie (AHFST), Port-au-Prince, Haïti
Université Quisqueya, Laboratoire Santé-Environnement (LS-E), Port-au-Prince, Haïti
I. The relationship between environmental quality and public health
Since the appearance of Homo sapiens, between 100,000 and 300,000 years
ago, humans have taken from the environment the raw material necessary to
meet their basic needs. After use, releases are generated and then released
into the environment. Despite the level of technical and technological
development, human activities of producing food, goods and services have
not yet reached the level of zero waste. They keep in motion the double
process “Appropriation-Disapproriation”, through which man introduces the
discharges (containing pollutants) from different uses into the natural
environment, thus causing the biological imbalance of natural ecosystems and
the degradation of the environment. The term “pollutant” designates any
substance of strictly anthropogenic origin, which man introduces into a given
biotope from which it was absent or of which he modifies the content (in
water, air or soil depending on the biotope) when it is spontaneously present
. The history of pollution and the degradation of the quality of life on the
planet shows that "man is the disruptor of a mythical balance towards which
the ecosystem would naturally tend" .
“Man, thanks to the industrial revolution and technological progress, has been
able to develop his grip on the environment. By having the feeling of better
"controlling" nature, he forgot his vulnerability of being alive as well as the
dependence which binds him to what surrounds him. Technical progress has
enabled it to produce more, more quickly and to seek ever higher yields,
nature often being nothing more than a resource to be exploited ”. It
follows that environmental health problems arise primarily from the
degradation of the environment and the ecosystems that support life through
various forms of pollution of air, water, soil and food. The very nature of the
planet puts us at certain risks, but the fact remains that a biophysical
environment free from anthropogenic pollutants (such as certain toxic
substances) would cause fewer public health problems .
Questions concerning the relationship between the quality of the environment
and health in its public dimension are not new. According to the theory of the
cosmos and the Aristotelian natural order, man forms a whole with his
universe . With this in mind, some believe that it is then logical to consider
the human environment to understand his health .
Corresponding author. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Hippocrates , reported on epidemics due to seasonal changes in weather,
he stressed that physicians should pay special attention to the seasons of the
year, the diseases they produce, and the wind conditions and quality of the
waters of each country. It urges them to take into account the water
resources used by the population, whether they are swampy, softened or
hard, the dominant geological formation, and whether the waters are salty
and unfit for consumption. Rather than attributing evil (pain or disease) to
divine will or vengeance, Hippocrates is the first to consider the influence of
factors such as climate, state of the atmosphere, temperature, the influence
of the seasons, rains, winds and thunderstorms, the age of the patient or the
diet, on health. “The Romans, for their part, developed a particularly
elaborate environmental hygiene policy, particularly around the issue of water
(water medicine through thalassotherapy and viaduct systems for the supply
of healthy water and disposal of dirty water). Public hygiene, salubritas, is at
the heart of Roman concerns, from doctors to architects who build cities
according to the direction of the winds and marshy areas ”.
“From the middle of the 19th century, most infectious disease epidemics
declined thanks to action on the environment (water, habitat, waste) and
education, which constituted the paradigm of this 1st public health revolution.
Faced with the current epidemic of chronic diseases and the inability of the
current biomedical model to stop it, a second public health revolution appears
necessary built on a paradigm based on an ecosystem definition of health and
the recognition of legitimacy of citizen participation based on the
precautionary principle ”.
In recent decades, the issue has become one of the major challenges for
societies . Indeed, it was from 1950 that concerns gradually arose about
the state of environmental degradation and its harmful consequences for the
survival of ecosystems and for development .
II. The “Health-Environment” binomial in world thinking and Haiti’s
The United Nations Conference on the Environment, more commonly known
as the Stockholm Conference, which was held in Stockholm, Sweden, from
June 5 to 16, 1972, placed ecological questions at the level of international
concerns. Indeed, Principle 2 of the Stockholm Declaration states the
following “The natural resources of the earth, including air, water, land, flora
and fauna, and particularly representative samples of natural ecosystems,
must be preserved for the benefit of present and future generations by
careful planning or management as necessary ”. This principle defines at
the national level a context or political framework through which ecology,
which is the science of habitat , was to become central to public
On the other hand, the World Commission on Environment and Development
defines sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of
the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet
theirs” . This definition converges with Antoine de St-Exupéry's position
on the responsibility of the ascending generation when he advances: “We do
not inherit the land from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”. Thus,
development, taken in the context of global environmental changes, evokes
the need for a deconstruction of human individualism in favor of the
construction of the eco-citizen in humans. Such an approach poses the need
for an awakening of human curiosity on the actions that it exerts on nature,
with the perspective of arousing the emergence of a consciousness, at the
same time ecological, political, ethical and spiritual capable to facilitate a
better understanding of the organization and functioning of ecosystems.
Achieving such an objective inevitably implies the prior appropriation by the
aspiring Eco-citizen of knowledge about the geophysical environment of his
habitat and the minimal understanding of certain natural phenomena having
the capacity to impact all the habitats of the planet.
In directive 91/414 of the European Union, the environment is defined as
“water, air, land, wild fauna and flora, as well as any interrelation between
these various elements and any relationship between them and any living
organism ”. This definition is interesting because it mentions not only the
various constituents of an ecosystem, that is to say the environments and
populations of animals and plants, but also the relationships between these
constituents. Indeed, “an ecosystem is structurally constituted by the
association of two components in constant interaction with each other: a
physico-chemical, abiotic, specific environment, having a well-defined spatiotemporal dimension, called biotope, associated with a living community,
characteristic of the latter, biocoenosis ”. The global approach, described
by the interactions between biotope and biocoenoese, as mentioned in these
two definitions, and “which simultaneously takes into account the physical,
chemical and biological parameters as well as the functional links existing
between the components of the systems. natural, fits into the general
framework of the analysis of complex systems”.
By analyzing Principle 2 of the Stockholm Declaration, Haurine  notes that
“the stakes are therefore to preserve and save the natural resource in the
long term by using it optimally and efficiently, while taking care to limit the
waste and favoring the use of renewable resources and recyclable materials;
avoid CO2 emissions to fight climate change; to manage and recover waste ”.
Between the United Nations Conference on the Environment held in
Stockholm in June 1972, that on Environment and Development in Rio de
Janeiro in June 1992, and the World Summit on Sustainable Development in
Johannesburg in August 2002, researchers and the public authorities have
made great progress in understanding the relationship between the quality of
the environment and public health. In this movement, the permanent
mobilization of the World Health Organization and the UNESCO International
Hydrological Program have enabled non-governmental organizations,
universities and research centers to give tremendous impetus, on a planetary
scale, sustainable development based on environmental enhancement .
In Haiti, the accelerated degradation of the environment observed over the
past thirty years, the absence of appropriate public policies for better
management of natural resources, and the lack of actions observed in the
choices of public investment that must harmonize public policies with the
challenges of sustainable development, highlight the difficulties that future
generations of this country will have to face to ensure their well-being. In the
light of the statement of Principle 2 of the Stockholm Declaration, it seems
relevant today to initiate a reflection based on the conceptualization at the
local level of the binomial “Science-policy”, to introduce the notion of Ecocitizenship in the curriculum of the Haitian school (all cycles combined). The
analysis of the possible contribution of the teaching of the geophysical
environment and of the principles respectful of the environment in the
formation of the Haitian student can provoke an environmental awareness,
which will lead to the emanation of a some Eco-citizenship in Haiti.
III. The characteristics of the geophysical environment of Haiti: a
territory of the Caribbean very vulnerable to natural disasters
The Republic of Haiti occupies the western part of the Island of Hispaniola,
the eastern part of which is occupied by the Dominican Republic. It is located
in the center of the Greater Antilles, between 18 and 20 degrees North
latitude (with the exception of Tortoise Island which slightly exceeds the 20th
degree to the North) and 71º3' and 75º West longitude (Figure 1 ). The relief
of the country is characterized by its rugged appearance. Most of the territory
is occupied by mountains formed of limestone. Climatic phenomena
(irregularity and violence of the rains), hydrological (torrential regime of
rivers), biogeographic (deforestation in particular), determine devastating
forms of ablation: landslides, landslides, erosion in sheet or gully,
undermining of banks streams [19, 20].
Figure 1: Geographic Map of the Caribbean
Moreover, “There is now strong evidence of significant global warming. The
evidence comes from direct measurements of the rise in surface air and
subterranean temperatures of the oceans and phenomena such as the rise in
global mean sea level, retreating glaciers and changes in sea level. many physical
and biological systems. ”. An increase in global Earth temperatures or any
change in climatic parameters can only have impacts on the environment and
socioeconomic activity. Indeed, sectors such as agriculture, forestry, ecosystems,
infrastructure, fisheries, water management, tourism, energy production and
demand are all linked to climatic parameters ; their organization and
functioning, as well as their performance will therefore necessarily be affected by
climate change. The study of climate variability and its impacts on natural
(tropical) ecosystems could only strengthen the training of the Haitian Eco-citizen.
Indeed, the Republic of Haiti is considered to be one of the most vulnerable
countries in the face of climate change . This vulnerability is partly rooted in
an exceptional exposure to climatic hazards, including floods, droughts,
hurricanes or tropical storms, and partly in an underlying sensitivity of the
socioecological system receiving these hazards . Floods, storms, droughts and
erosion all have in common their potential for human or material loss and for
profound disruption of the socioeconomic and political organization of a territory
. In addition, Haiti is therefore located at the border of two tectonic plates:
the North American plate and the Caribbean plate (located under the Caribbean
Sea); it is also on the path of tropical cyclones (Figure 2).
Figure 2: View of some impacts of Hurricane Matthew (October 2016)
Over the past decades, several natural events have marked the history of major
disasters in Haiti. In general, the history of mankind is marked by a number of
environmental facts, natural or anthropogenic events that the human mind
qualifies, based on their degree of impact on ecosystems, as disasters. Of these
events we remember more particularly in the countries of the Caribbean:
droughts, floods, volcanic eruptions, cyclones and earthquakes. These
catastrophes, as well as their probability of occurrence, are permanent data; on
the other hand, the consciousness and the perception of human communities in
relation to them vary throughout history . Several natural events have marked
the history of major disasters in Haiti recently. Depending on their impact on lives
and property, the most devastating are:
May 24-27, 2002: floods in the Southern Peninsula. The town of Camp
Perrin and the towns of Asile and Anse-à-Veau were the most affected by
these tropical showers. Results: 31 dead, 14 people missing and more than
7,000 victims in the South department.
September 18-19, 2004: Hurricane Jeanne crossed the northern strip of
Haiti and the Haut Artibonite causing floods that killed 1,870 people. The
toll rises to 2,620 injured, 846 missing and 300,000 disaster victims, with
more than 3,000 dead. Gonaïves was the hardest hit city.
July 6 and 7, 2005: Hurricane Denis hit the southeast coast of Haiti,
causing flooding in several cities in the South (Bainet, Grand-Goave, Les
Cayes, etc.). This hurricane is responsible for more than 500 homeless
October 25, 2005: Floods caused by torrential rains which were brought
down in several regions of the North-West including the municipalities of
Port-de-Paix, Bassin-Bleu, Anse-à-Foleur and Saint-Louis du Nord.
22 and 23 November 2006: heavy rains causing flooding in Grand'Anse, the
department of Nippes and the North-West, causing damage to road
structures including the collapse of a bridge at Ravine Sable in the town of
8-9 May 2007: torrential rains causing considerable damage in several
regions of the country, in particular in the departments of North, NorthEast and South. The city of Ouanaminthe is particularly affected and the
bridge connecting Haiti (de Ouanaminthe) to the Dominican Republic
(Dajabón) severely damaged.
August 26, 2008: Hurricane Gustav crossed the southern peninsula
including the departments of the South and Grande Anse causing around
77 dead and 8 missing with significant material damage. 15,000 families
were affected by the storm which destroyed 3,000 houses and damaged
September 1, 2008: Hurricane Hanna devastates the departments of
Artibonite and North-East. Several towns are flooded including Gonaives.
The official death toll shows 529 dead. Near Gonaives, several towns in the
North-East, South and South-East have been flooded.
January 12, 2010: Haiti earthquake of 2010 with a magnitude of 7.3
occurred on January 12, 2010 at 4:53 p.m. local time, killing 300,000.
October 24, 2010: Torrential rains from Hurricane Sandy hit the
departments of Ouest, Sud and Grand'Anse. At least 200,000 people are
homeless, 60 to 100 people are believed to have died, a new cholera
epidemic has spread, and 70% of crops in the south of the country have
October 2013 - April 2014: Extreme drought especially in the North West
but the North East and parts of the Center and West were not spared.
October 2016: Hurricane Matthew devastates the department of
Grand'Anse, and in particular the city of Jérémie, the departments of the
South, Nippes and a good part of the West, including the town of PetitGoâve.
The natural disasters that have struck the Haitian territory deeply affect the lives
of the population with economic impacts of the order of several billion US dollars
for each event, making the recovery a little more difficult . In addition, the
impact of natural disasters on the life of the population, their socio-economic
impacts are often significant, and can be broken down into two types: (i) tangible
impacts (those which may be subject to a monetary estimate because they relate
to market goods and services), and intangible impacts (which, in the current state
of knowledge, are not translated into monetary terms, such as the degradation of
natural environments and the loss of irreplaceable goods such as heritage) ; (ii)
the effects directly linked to the phenomena and the indirect consequences of the
IV. Towards a correlation between the traditional ecological knowledge
of Haitians and the ecological thinking of the Age of Enlightenment
Haiti’s environmental problems are very complex. With climate change and its
impacts on natural ecosystems and human health, this issue is becoming more
and more relevant. Its unprecedented expansion impacts the country's natural
resources, amplifies poverty and acts on the resilient capacities of the population.
The concepts of ecology, environment, sustainable development, climate change,
SDGs (Figure 3) are not systematically integrated into the curricula of basic and
secondary school cycles in Haiti. They are also not studied in literacy programs.
Being very poorly transmitted, and therefore very poorly understood, they can
only create confusion among children, citizens and the general population.
Figure 3: The 17 United Nations SDGs
In the culture resulting from the ancestral tradition of the Haitian, the
responsibility of man towards the environment is deeply coded. It is reported in
the literature the existence of traditional ecological knowledge (TEK) within
spiritual “voodoo” ecology, which is expressed through songs and interactions
with lwa (spirits) . In one of the songs echoing the anthropogenic impacts on
the environment, the Haitian voodooist sings: “the Earth is dangerously
unbalanced, and the peoples of the world are the cause”. Trying to scientifically
or culturally confirm the place of environmental problems in the formation of the
eco-citizen, above all imposes a theoretical questioning on the degree of
application of the Weberian concepts of "ethics of conviction" and "ethics of
responsibility» in the Haitian political field. The historical delays observed,
among others in: a. the harmonization of relations between: the politician and the
scientist, the principal and the agent, b. the definition and adoption of a Haitian
national science policy, c. the definition of state objectives in the area of
environment and health, d. The lack of national questioning about the role that
higher education and research can play in achieving the SDGs and the country's
development raise concerns for the future.
The ecological thinking of the Age of Enlightenment gave man a special place and
role in nature, at a time when science and religion were linked . This ecology
is interested in the interactions between living beings within the framework of an
economy seen as the very wise disposition of natural beings, instituted by the
Sovereign Creator, according to which they tend to common ends and have
reciprocal functions [30, 31]. This representation of the discourse on the
harmonious relations between man and nature in 18th century Theo-ecology,
arouses interest in the search for a certain convergence between the ancestral
SET of the Haitian and the ecological thought of the Age of Enlightenment. It
invites a rereading of the cultural co-habitation that exists between the spiritual
and health practices in Haiti. The Haitian has a priori when it comes to health. Its
very first choice is a self-medication based on herbal tea with leaves from local
plants. In fact, consuming herbal tea for whatever symptom is still the first
decision in health matters. Table 1 provides information on the biodiversity of
Haitian phytosanitary resources, their importance for human health.
Traditional Haitian medicine, based particularly on the biodiversity of
phytosanitary resources, taken in the prism of the contamination of natural
ecosystems, leads to asking questions about the phytotoxic effects of pollutants
(such as residues of chemical fertilizers, drugs, heavy metals) contained in the soil
and in the irrigation water on the chemistry of the active substances of medicinal
plants cultivated in biologically degraded areas? This question refers to an urgent
need to define a science-based management policy for Haiti’s environmental
Table 1: Biodiversity of Haitian phytosanitary resources
Rich in vitamin C, iron absorption
Yellowish part: immunostimulating,
anti-inflammatory and antiviral action.
Indication (curative effects)
Transparent part: anti-inflammatory,
anti-asthmatic and healing.
Propriété expectorante et antivirale.
Prévention de la réplication virale et
activation de la phagocytose.
Rich in vitamin A, B, C, E, good fats,
flavonoids. Stimulates the production
Regulation of lymphocyte growth,
release of cytokines.
Anti platelet aggregate and anti
Chemopreventive agent against lung
cancer, provides adequate protection
against oxidative stress
Source of vitamins essential for the
functioning of the immune system
Expectorant and antibacterial
Bactericidal and bacteriostatic action
against certain pathogenic bacteria.
Blocks the entry of certain viruses into
the respiratory system, reduces
inflammation of the bronchi, improves
clotting and stimulates the immune
Rich in vitamin A. Indispensable for
the functioning of the immune
Rich in iron, proteins, flavonoids.
Modulates the activity of the immune
system. Increases the production of
Purgatory and antiviral effect.
Source of vitamins essential for the
functioning of the immune system.
Indispensable for the functioning of
the immune system.
Good functioning of the immune
Promotes expectoration, stimulates
the immune system, anticoagulant.
V. Towards the training of generations of Eco-citizens in Haiti
Environmental degradation, pollution (air, water and soil), juxtaposed with the
country's high degree of vulnerability to climate change, places citizens in ethical
dilemmas. It is as if the shame of the present and the fear of the future ultimately
destroy all the mechanisms allowing Haitians and other living beings constituting
the biocenosis of the country's ecosystem to be able to live and evolve with
dignity in their natural environments. Everything happens as if there were
established laboratory conditions or an elsewhere that was designed and
manufactured to accommodate all Haitians, thus making, by force of
circumstances of Haiti a place where life is no longer possible. It is also as if it is
no longer possible to evoke the sacred, spiritual and moral bonds that
symbolically exist in the interactions between the components of the “Haiti-Haitian”
binomial. The positions invoking the powerlessness to social and environmental
remedies encourage us to question the question of the finitude of the living being
in Haiti, of going beyond existential philosophy, of the Haitian in the face of his
identity, of the relationship human beings with their habitat. Faced with this
ecological and human catastrophe, the analysis of the notions of "Union is
strength"; “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” and “collective responsibility” seem to
impose on each citizen the act of assuming their responsibilities and looking for
innovative ways of resolving crises, resolutely turned towards the future.In “Les
Gouverneurs de la rosée”, Jacques Roumain  introduced into Haitian sociology
or anthropology the foundations of environmental citizenship and a pre-ethics of
environmental management. He has also included in the environmental sciences
the notion of “collective responsibility”.
We will all die ... - and she plunges her hand in the dust; old Delira
Deliverance says: we will all die: beasts, plants, living Christians, O
Jesus-Mary, Blessed Virgin; and dust runs between his fingers. The
same dust that the wind blows with dry breath on the devastated
field of millet on the high barrier of verdigris-eaten cacti, on the
trees, these bayahondes [Plants that grow in arid environments]
rust.Behind the house, the rounded hill is like the head of a
negress with peppercorn hair: thin brush in spaced tufts, level with
the ground; farther on, like a dark shoulder against the sky,
another hill rises crossed by sparkling ravines: the erosions have
exposed long flows of rocks: they have bled the earth to the bone.
For sure they had been wrong to deforest. While the late Josaphat
Jean-Joseph, Bienaimé's father, was still alive, the trees grew
thickly up there. They had set fire to the wood to make food
gardens: planted congo peas on the plateau, corn on the hillside.
At the time, we all lived in good harmony, united like the fingers of
the hand and the coumbite [Collective agricultural work] brought
the neighborhood together for harvesting or clearing.
Among the various choices that should emerge from a possible national policy
for the rebuilding of the country, it seems absolutely urgent and essential to
retain the teaching of the specific characteristics of the country, in particular
its geophysical environment, its strengths and weaknesses, vulnerability of
the country to climate change, etc. The educational tools proposed in the
Paris Agreement signed in 2015 at the twenty-first Conference of the Parties
to the Convention on Climate Change (COP21), offer a theoretical framework
allowing this education to be included in the field of education to citizenship.
Indeed, this agreement asserts in its preamble the rights of indigenous
peoples, as well as the possibility of recognizing, for certain cultures,
biodiversity as “Mother Earth”. In section 5 of its article 7, it also establishes
that adaptation policies should “take into account and draw on the best
available scientific evidence and, as appropriate, traditional knowledge,
indigenous peoples' knowledge and local knowledge systems ”. It seems
that the maintenance of the natural wealth of the country inevitably passes
through the integral education of the citizen. The real wealth of a country is
not measured by the quantity and quality of its mineral or vegetable raw
materials, but by the quantity and quality of its gray matter .
The authors would like to thank the “One Health” University Space of
Quisqueya University, FOKAL (Knowledge and Freedom Foundation), AOG
(Community Farmer Association of the Originals of the Great Plain), the
Agence universitaire de la Francophonie and the SCAC (Cooperation and
Cultural Action Service) of the French Embassy in Haiti for their support in
carrying out this reflection.
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