Ilet a Brouee is a tiny sandbank island off the south coast of Haiti. It measures just 4,000 square metres in size. It is considered one of the most densely populated islands on earth.
It is home to 500 residents in 83 houses and is surrounded by a very narrow band of beach. There are no doctors, nurses, schools or proper sanitation on the island. The surrounding waters used to provide an abundance of fishing. However, due to recent effects of climate change and overfishing, fish stocks have sharply declined. Haiti lies in the Caribbean hurricane belt and is ranked the fourth most vulnerable country on the CVI (Climate Vulnerability Index). This means that every July, to avoid the devastation of hurricane season, residents relocate to other nearby islands, such as Ile a Vache. In November, they return home and rebuild their houses.
Clement Ise-Die (60), the leader of Ilet a Brouee and a lifelong fisherman, spoke about how climate change is affecting the livelihoods of island residents. He said: "The storms are getting increasingly worse, destroying our homes most years. We rarely catch big fish anymore; it is mostly small fish and eels."
The neighbouring island of Ile a Vache, Haiti, has five main villages and a population of approximately 15,000. It is also very vulnerable to the impact of tropical storms and hurricanes. However, measures on this island to protect residents’ livelihoods against storms and overfishing have become urgent. Organisations such as the Nature Conservancy, Haven and Friends of Ile a Vache are working to help islanders deal with climate change challenges. Some solutions include fish farms, mangrove restoration/preservation, artificial coral reefs and sustainable agriculture.
Mangroves are among the best natural defences to minimise community vulnerability to the predicted impacts of climate change and sea-level rise, as they are a buffer against storm and surge impacts, and when properly managed, can provide numerous social, economic and ecological benefits for the foreseeable future.
Approximately 25 per cent of the land area of Ile a Vache may be characterised as coastal wetland, which is predominantly comprised of mangroves. Although heavily impacted by cutting for firewood and other uses, mangroves remain a relatively extensive resource that are being rehabilitated to retain their critical functions and ecosystem services.
The depletion of fish stocks also has severely affected the islanders of Ile a Vache, who make a living from fishing. To help counteract this, a fish farm has been constructed in the village of Kaykoc, and artificial coral reefs with no-fish zones have been established to allow overfished populations time to reproduce and regrow.
Climate-resilient agriculture initiatives are also contributing to building resilience. The NGO Haven is training local farmers on these projects. One co-op has planted 2,000 citrus seedlings which can be sold to the hospitality sector when the fruit have matured.
In addition, education is crucial to success, to inform people why climate change is happening and to teach about possible solutions. It is important for communities to understand and be on board with all climate action projects for long-term success. Accordingly, the Nature Conservancy have been involved with community workshops and produced material to teach local schoolchildren about conservation.
While not without their limitations, Ile a Vache have multiple solutions working in tandem to try to effect positive change. These initiatives to increase climate resilience are also key to socioeconomic development and the systemic reduction of poverty. Despite enormous obstacles and limited resources, they forge ahead with determination. On the front lines, you have no choice.
*This article was supported by the Simon Cumbers Media Fund