Carlos Rymer

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Archive for the category “Caribbean”

A Brief Action Plan for Haiti

Last January 12th, Haiti was hit by a 7.0 earthquake that left its capital – Port-au-Prince – virtually destroyed. It left over 1 million Haitians homeless and resulted in more than 150,000 dead, making it not only the most tragic event in recent history in the Western Hemisphere, but also the event that could cost Haiti all the incredible progress it had made. In spite of the huge cost the earthquake incurred on Haiti, the surge in international support that followed to restore progress in Haiti could potentially put it on the path to sustained progress.

I have written before about the need to focus on more than just bringing in foreign investments and strengthening institutions in Haiti. While the two are very important, they cannot replace the need for restoration of natural resources and entrepreneurial citizens that can manage such resources while making a living. Here I outline 5 actions that should be part of a broad development plan for Haiti.

1) Rebuild Elsewhere

While the first instinct might be to rebuild right away in Port-au-Prince with better building methods and materials, the best thing to do might be to begin to focus the country’s main activities elsewhere where future earthquakes could cause little damage. This would mean a shift in government public works spending to a less vulnerable city, like Cap-Haitien. The goal of this would be to decrease the impact of a similar earthquake in the future if it were to happen. Of course, the location should also keep in mind vulnerabilities to hurricanes and sea-level rise.

2) Focus on Natural Resource Restoration

One of the most notable characteristics of Haiti is its lack of natural resources. A long history of resource degradation fueled by foreign policies and government corruption has virtually deforested the country, leaving it with little valuable topsoil for agriculture and water retention. While the situation is extremely critical, it is possible to embrace a long-term program of natural resource degradation that would reforest the country, restore valuable topsoil for agriculture, and make the country an attraction not only for tourism, but also for citizen-led natural resource based activities. Without natural resources, few industries will be able to prosper and Haitians themselves will have little opportunity to develop entrepreneurial activities.

3) Link Natural Resource Restoration to Jobs and Education

A large portion of Haitians live in the countryside where natural resource restoration is needed the most. Many of these Haitians survive on poor topsoils that produce very little food. Productive jobs are lacking and basic education is not always available. The process of natural resource restoration should be directly linked to jobs creation and educational programs. Those who currently live on exploiting what’s barely left should be given real jobs reforesting watersheds, strengthening creeks and rivers, and implementing sustainable agricultural systems overtime. At the same time, young people should receive hands-on education on natural resources restoration and management practices so as to leave the restoration effort to Haitians themselves when the time comes. This can have the effect of not just eliminating the need for citizens to clear hills, but also to lock in a strong incentive to continue conserving and restoring natural resources.

4) Promote More Local Entrepreneurship

Haitians have an impressive capacity to figure out how to make useful products from whatever they may have. This spirit could be a big source of income generation through small enterprises. Resources should be allocated to the promotion of local entrepreneurship to make use of natural resources as they are restored and to entice sustainable agricultural practices. Microfinance, local workshops, and NGO-led capacity-building could go a very long way at creating informal jobs with very little economic resources, and this has the effect of creating security and establishing a safe environment for bigger investments.

5) Establish More Partnerships

The UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, has played a key role in improving stability in Haiti. With the solidarity shown by the international community, it is time to ensure that more partnerships are established between Haiti and foreign institutions. Haiti should seek to partner with government agencies from other countries that have been successful at doing something that could be replicated in Haiti. It should seek to partner in a wide range of sectors that could bring great capacity to Haiti and create new opportunities for sustainable growth. While it is extremely important to make sure that Haitians feel empowered to lead their own development, it is also crucial to take advantage of what potential partners could offer to Haiti at little or no cost.

Clearly, a lot more needs to be done in order to ensure sustained progress in Haiti. There needs to be more done on security, on government institutions, and emergency response. But the five points I mention should be crucial elements of an Action Plan if Haiti is to make most use of the international support it will receive over the coming years. For too long have some of these elements been neglected by international supporters. It is time to wake up to these realities and embrace them as if they are equally important to what has been the focus in the past.


My Bloodline

Since I always write about current issues relevant to improving quality of life globally, I thought I’d take a departure today. There’s a lot about myself that I know and always think about, but I’ve always refrained from discussing with people or writing about such things. One of those things is my bloodline, which I only discuss with a few family members who don’t mind or are in fact interested in talking about it. Over the past ten years, I’ve sought to learn more and more about my big family and its roots, which are incredibly diverse. I have asked elders about their past, analyzed thinking patterns of some family members and their causes, and estimated what’s in me, genetically speaking. So here’s my story.

As most people who’ve met or known me may know, I’m from the Dominican Republic, a country that shares the eastern two-thirds of the island I like to call by what its original inhabitants, the Taino and other indigenous people, knew it as: Quisqueya. Though I wasn’t born in the Dominican Republic, my entire family is from that country and I’ve lived enough years there to know the Dominican way of life and consider myself Dominican (especially since I intend to live there again in the future).

Now, anybody who knows a little bit about the Dominican Republic knows how diverse it is in terms of the physical character of its people. The current inhabitants are descendants of Tainos, Africans, Spanish, and even Asians. Unlike other diverse countries where you have immigrants form diverse communities, the inhabitants of the Dominican Republic have actually been mixing for centuries now, and so the mixture is much more punctuated than many other countries with diverse populations. In any given family, it’s not atypical to find skin colors ranging from black to white and everything in between, heights ranging from below average to very tall, and even spoken Spanish ranging from formal to very Dominican slang. And although there’s a huge mix, few people recognize it or even appreciate their bloodlines, prefering certain physical characteristics over others even if most of their genetic makeup may side with what they deem undesirable.

When it comes to me, I’ve been able to draw out my bloodline pretty well, ranging to about three (3) generations back, which would put all I know about where I come from to the late 19th century, when the population in the Dominican Republic was just above 500,000, down from 10 million today. From what I’ve learned, my most immediate family members are all from the Eastern part of the country, specifically from the provinces of El Seibo, La Altagracia, La Romana, Samana, and San Pedro de Macoris.

abuela_herminiaFrom my mother’s side, the bloodline has a Spanish and Taino makeup. My grandmother from my mother’s side was completely Taino, with no mixture whatsoever, and of course so were my great-grandparents from my mom’s side. The picture to the left is my young grandmother, which must have been taken around 1950. That entire part of my family is from the rural areas of the province of La Romana, very near to the sugar cane fields used to produce sugar, for reasons my mother does not know.

My grandfather, my mother’s father, was a Spanish descendant on the other hand, who owned a lot of land in El Seibo and in La Romana, all under agricultural production, which was the main economic activity at the time. His entire family, from the stories my uncles tell me, inherited a great deal of land that they eventually sold, including land today owned by hotel establishments (including Reina Cumayasa if anybody is interested in knowing). Of all that land, which from the descriptions ranged in the thousands of acres, including significant portions of prime coastline, about 50 acres remain, which is now owned by my mother and her brothers. My grandfather was a well-known farmer in El Seibo and La Romana during his times, and I was honored to grow up seeing him every day as he walked about 1km to my home at 8am sharp to say hello to my mother and I and drink his morning coffee (see him below carrying me; next to him is my grandmother).

Old 31

From my father’s side, the bloodline is a lot more mixed, with African, Spanish, and Taino all mixed up. Moreover, the size of the family is a lot bigger on this side, and the mysteries are even bigger as my grandparents continue to tell me stories I didn’t know about. On this front, my family comes from La Altagracia, La Romana, Samana, and San Pedro de Macoris. My grandmother from my father’s side, which is a very interesting person for those who have met her, has a mix of African, Spanish, and Taino. Both of their parents, my grandparents, come from La Altagracia, and also owned a significant amount of land there, all handed over by previous governments for agricultural purposes. My great-grandmother came from African and Spanish predecessors, while my great-grandfather, well-known in his times and respected by my entire family, had indigenous roots.

My grandmother, who grew up in rural communities around the Chavon River in La Altagracia, has a very interesting story to tell, which includes a lot of traditional thoughts and practices involving sacred beliefs, some of which she still claims to practice today sometimes. All of these she learned from her father, who supposedly he also shared with his family in El Seibo and Samana. Eventually, my grandmother, their parents, and her 10+ brothers and sisters all moved west to La Romana, San Pedro de Macoris, and Santo Domingo, where many are today.

Old 49 - Copy (2)My grandfather, on the other hand, has pure African roots. My grandfather’s mother grew up in Puerto Rico, while his father grew up in St. Thomas at a time when it was either British owned or had a strong British presence. That’s where my family’s English last name comes from. My grandfather assumes his father was a slave at the time, back in the late 19th century. Somehow, both his mother and his father ended up in the northern coast of the Dominican Republic, in a town called Sanchez in the province of Samana, where my grandfather and his brothers and sisters grew up. These people are known historically as “cocolos” because of the English connection. From there, they all had the opportunity to travel to the United States, where they established in New York City and spread from there to other areas of that country. My grandfather met my grandmother in La Romana when my grandmother escaped from her father in a rural community of Chavon because she felt old enough to marry, something which with my grandfather disagreed. One night, she decided to walk all the way from Chavon to La Romana at night to escape from her father, and along the way, she stopped in a rural community where a brother was, and that’s where she met my grandfather.

So, to sum it up, my mother’s makeup is Taino with some Spanish, while my father’s makeup is very mixed. So my genetic makeup, as a result, is also highly mixed with those three lineages. I’m proud of all three lineages, and I wished Dominican society embraced all three equally and respectfully. In addition to having learned about my bloodline, I’ve also learned significantly about the indigenous people who lived in the Caribbean islands prior to European colonization. The rich history those people left constantly leave me wondering why it’s not explored more deeply, why it’s not appreciated more strongly, and why it’s not honored as it should by Dominican society and its government. Being more closely associated with my mother, I feel more closely tied to my indigenous heritage (which by the way includes many different indigenous people from the Caribbean, not just one united people) than anything else, in spite of being proud and defensive of my entire bloodline. I have come to appreciate and live by the their sacrificing and service-oriented ways, and I hope some day that appreciation can be extended to the level it deserves in Dominican society.

Impulsando el Desarrollo Sostenible en Haiti

haitiEn esta semana, un grupo empresarial dirigido por el ex-Presidente Estadounidense Bill Clinton, Enviado Especial de las Naciones Unidas para Haití, visito a nuestro vecino Haití para analizar los avances que se han logrando en términos de seguridad e institución. Bill Clinton aseguro que Haití está listo para recibir inversiones que puedan crear empleos y dinamizar su economía, con fines de impulsar un desarrollo sostenido. Aunque estos pasos son positivos y necesarios para Haití, escurecen una de las oportunidades más concretas de crear empleos y asegurar un desarrollo sostenible que devuelva a Haití su pasada riqueza en recursos naturales.

Sin detallar el porqué más del 90% del territorio Haitiano esta deforestado (eso es una discusión larga en sí mismo), quizás el reto más grande que tiene Haití es reforestar el territorio nacional. Sin una cubertura verde apropiada, no existirá suficiente agua para industrias, agricultura, o consumo humano, ni se podrá asegurar la viabilidad de las zonas urbanas que serán vulnerables a inundaciones. Por más inversiones atraídas y por más seguridad que resulte de MINUSTAH (la misión de las Naciones Unidas en Haití), gran parte del potencial económico no podrá ser sostenido sin una base confiable de recursos naturales.

Sin lugar a dudas, se ha hecho mucho para reforestar a Haití. Existen muchas organizaciones no gubernamentales en Haití que trabajan para impulsar la reforestación, y recientemente el gobierno Haitiano se ha comprometido a colaborar con República Dominicana y Cuba para crear un Corredor Biológico que dependerá en gran parte de la cubertura forestal. Pero también es real que la deforestación sigue incrementando agresivamente, con efectos hasta en territorio Dominicano. Y esto es razonable, ya que la falta de todos tipos de necesidades básica que representa la pobreza extrema conduciría a cualquier humano a hacer lo necesario para sobrevivir. Entonces, para frenar la depredación y impulsar una era de reforestación y restauración de los recursos naturales en Haití, se debe ejecutar un proyecto integral que no ha sido previsto.

Lo que Haití requiere para entrar a la era de restauración de sus recursos naturales es su propia versión del Plan Quisqueya Verde que se ejecuta en República Dominicana a una escala más grande y con la integración de otros aspectos sociales. Haití necesita ayuda extranjera para crear un plan de restauración de recursos naturales que cree empleos permanentes para aquellos que hoy están deforestando y educar a la juventud a manejar los recursos naturales que el plan creara en las siguientes dos décadas. Tal plan debe tener tres objetivos principales:

1) Crear empleos permanentes y satisfactorios para frenar la depredación forestal via pagos por servicios ambientales (reforestando, manteniendo cuencas hidrograficas, etc.);

2) Reforestar todo el territorio nacional en las siguientes dos décadas con una mezcla de plantas nativas y productivas, desarrollando también la producción agroforestal y agrícola; y

3) Crear un programa nacional de educación juvenil en el manejo de los recursos naturales que se crearan, agricultura, y ecoturismo.

Tal plan no será fácil por las amplias barreras que aun existen para coordinar acciones concretas en Haití, pero será necesario. No basta buscar inversionistas extranjeros cuando la población no se siente involucrada en su propio proyecto de nación ni cuando se impulsa soluciones concretas desde el público en general. Tampoco es suficiente un gobierno con instituciones que puedan coordinar actividades con nuevas empresas pero no puedan coordinar su propia gente en el impulso del desarrollo sostenible que necesita Haití. Todo esto es necesario, pero hay que crear la base de recursos naturales que sostendrá toda la ayuda internacional para generar empleos y sectores productivos en Haití.

Este es quizás el mejor momento para impulsar tal plan, ya que financiamiento se hará disponible en los siguientes años por el nuevo acuerdo sobre cambio climático que saldrá de Copenhague. Tal acuerdo necesariamente dispondrá de recursos para países vulnerables a la deforestación la frenen y en vez reforesten su territorio. Vía un mecanismo donde otros países financien la reforestación en Haití para absorber dióxido carbono, un plan de tal magnitud se podrá ejecutar en beneficio del pueblo Haitiano. Esta nueva línea de financiamiento para la reforestación, arriba de más ayuda que será necesaria de la comunidad internacional, podrá asegurar que en las siguientes dos décadas Haití se convierta en un país dinámico socioeconómicamente. Esto no sería bueno tan solo para el pueblo Haitiano, pero también para toda la región Caribeña y los ciudadanos de la comunidad internacional que sueñan con aprender más directamente sobre la cultura, tradiciones, y humildad del pueblo Haitiano.

Disponibilidad de Agua Dulce en RD Bajara Sustancialmente Este Siglo

sequiaEl siguiente articulo por Odalis Mejia fue publicado en el periodico HOY y es un resumen de un estudio sobre el impacto del cambio climatico sobre los recursos hidricos (ver aqui).

Una investigación realizada por estudiantes de la Universidad de Columbia en la ciudad de Nueva York establece que la disponibilidad de agua dulce en la República Dominicana se reducirá en 85% a finales del siglo, debido al cambio climático que además ocasionará  impactos severos a mediano plazo.

Advierte el estudio que ya se están viendo estos efectos con la sequía que afecta al país, la cual ha conducido a la reducción de la irrigación y la producción hidroeléctrica.

El estudio utilizó proyecciones del Panel Intergubernamental sobre Cambio Climático y el Programa de Desarrollo de las Naciones Unidas para determinar la disponibilidad de agua fresca per cápita.

La investigación concluye que debido a una reducción de 20% en la precipitación anual, un aumento en la evapo-transpiración y el incremento de  la población dominicana en casi 50% a mediados del siglo, la disponibilidad de agua dulce per cápita se reducirá de 2,200 metros cúbicos en la actualidad  a menos de 400 metros cúbicos en el 2100.

“La República Dominicana debe de tomar medidas inmediatas para planificar para el largo plazo, debido a que la disponibilidad de agua fresca se reducirá en 85% a finales del siglo, con impactos severos también ocurriendo a mediano plazo,” expone Carlos Rymer,  estudiante dominicano de postgrado de la Universidad de Columbia y autor principal del estudio que realizó junto a Nosisa Ndaba y Emmanuelle Humbelt.

Rymer apunta que las  proyecciones deben tomarse en cuenta porque coinciden  con el plan del  gobierno de convertir al país  en el “granero” del Caribe, cuando el sector agrícola consume  más del 70% del uso del agua dulce.

Recuerda que los planes de enfrentar la crisis alimentaría se basan en el incremento de la producción agrícola, la cual demandará mayor agua dulce mientras su disponibilidad se reduce drásticamente.

Acciones.  El estudio  recomienda la aprobación de una ley que rija el manejo sostenible de los recursos hídricos, para un plan de adaptación que incluya la conservación en el sector agrícola y las zonas urbanas. Sugiere  la desalinización del  agua del mar para uso doméstico, la protección de cuencas hidrográficas, y el cultivo de variedades   resistentes a la sequía.

Global Warming To Eliminate Tourism in the Caribbean

Hispaniola-con-6m-subida-del-marOriginally published in It’s Getting Hot In Here.

Over the years, many island nations have fought hard to be heard in the international arena about the effects that global warming is already having on them. Some islands have already been lost in the Pacific, and the forecast is that many more will go in the coming decades, especially if nothing is done to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions globally. Now, in the Caribbean, the picture is looking bleak as well. Today, the top newspaper in the Dominican Republic reported that global warming will eliminate tourism by 2050 under business-as-usual.

The Caribbean islands, for the exception of Cuba and Haiti, are largely dependent on tourism. Coastal development for the purpose of tourism is growing in the region at a high rate despite a recent regional decline in tourism. In the Caribbean, tourism accounts for 15% of the gross domestic product, with higher rates in many islands, and over 2.4 million jobs (about 16%). It has also pushed populations towards the coasts. For example, in the Dominican Republic, over 50% of the population lives near coasts where a 6-m sea-level rise would plunge them into the sea.

Recently, the Dominican government received a report detailing that, under their estimates, sea-level will rise by 6 meters under business-as-usual by 2050, eliminating the tourism industry and sending the country into complete chaos. The same would happen around the Caribbean. The fast development the region is seeing may be completely obliterated by global warming, and the same case goes for much of the rest of the developing world. The outcome would be to put billions of people in situations of poverty, hunger, and violence.

There are good reasons why people in the developing world should have high hopes. One reason is that, aside from what governments are doing (whether it be block negotiations or push for tough measures), industries are rushing towards making a profit out of solving the climate, and that’s a great thing. Companies like Ausra, eSolar, Solel, Nanosolar, Google, Honda, GE, Vestas, Aracruz, and many others are working hard to make renewable energy, transportation, and products cheap, feasible, and appropriate for smart, sustainable development. We are already seeing every major industry making significant investments in the solutions we need. Of course, this doesn’t mean we don’t need governments to step in. We especially need huge subsidies to shut down coal plants globally and replace fossil fuels with renewables.

Another good reason is that people are standing up everywhere. We are seeing people getting together to deploy solutions, taking action to shut down fossil fuel projects, and even elect leaders who will do something about global warming. The fact that climate criminals in Washington are hindering progress should be no reason for us to lose hope. Within a few years, we may be seeing ourselves agreeing that the entire world can be carbon neutral within two decades – and that’s where we need to get ourselves for the sake of uncertainty, urgency, and the billions of people who will have to suffer as a result of something they didn’t do. The good thing is, as I show in this recently released report, that we can do it while booming economies and improving the quality of life of everybody. Let’s do it!

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