31 Oct 2017 Story Disasters & conflicts

Managing waste to protect Haiti’s mangroves

For small island nations like Haiti, wetlands are critical: they protect the coastline from natural disasters, support livelihoods and help to ensure that locals have enough to eat.

But over the last two decades, Haiti’s mangroves – like mangroves around the world – have been increasingly exposed to plastic pollution and other human waste. The problem has worsened as informal landfill sites have cropped up across the island, causing significant harm to mangroves as well as corals and other marine life.

To address this challenge, the city of Les Cayes – in partnership with UN Environment and the Interministerial Committee for Regional Development (CIAT) – has developed an integrated plan to manage its waste. The city, which has a population of more than 100,000, is bordered by a famous – and very polluted – beach.

To raise awareness, the city has been capitalizing on the Gelée Festival, the most important and popular festival in Southern Haiti. During the festival, which is held annually in Les Cayes, the team and their partners model positive behaviour changes by demonstrating various ways to recycle and reduce waste at source, so as to reduce harmful impacts on the marine environment. 

The team has also linked the campaign and pilot activities with the development of an integrated waste management plan in coordination with the communities’ municipal authorities.

They have also reached out to youth. This summer, 100 teenagers from Les Cayes participated in a five-week summer camp that aimed to ensure that local youth are equipped to sensitize visitors and other beach users about waste and environmental issues. The camp, which took place in July and August 2017, was run by the ECOLO Jeune des Cayes Group and the Les Cayes Town Hall with support from CIAT.

“We might not be able to get to zero waste, but what we’d want is positive and sustainable outcomes and agents of change within the community”, says Francis Dube, Zero-Waste Project Manager at the UN Environment office in Haiti.

Dube and his colleagues are working to ensure that the activities on the beach are sustainably managed in collaboration with restaurants, hotels, vendors and other users. They hope to establish an organization that can manage the beach and its resources.

This will be combined with other efforts including a managed landfill, reduction of waste through recycling efforts and effective and efficient transportation of waste to ensure that it is not dumped in informal landfills.

Pollution and over-exploitation are some of the leading reasons mangroves worldwide are disappearing at rates three to five times faster than forests. Globally, over a quarter of the world’s original mangrove cover has already disappeared.

Pollution is the theme of the third UN Environment Assembly, which is gathering in Nairobi from 4-6 December. Sign the pledge and help us #BeatPollution in all its forms.

Learn more about UN Environment’s work in Haiti.