The River Wall

Fayet, home of the Heads Together Haiti organization, is built on a mainly flat expanse of fertile land growing organic mangoes, coconuts, corn, and all manner of other natural food. The people there use almost no fossil fuels for transportation and electricity. (People do without electricity for most things, although most have solar-charged cell phones.) I’d even say it’s an eco-village of sorts.

Being in the lowlands, Fayet is now in danger of floods of a kind never seen before. Deforestation in the mountains and hills upstream means that, where rainfall would have been able to seep into the ground or would have been slowed in its flow downhill, it now makes its way quickly into the major rivers. So a large hurricane can make the river Momas rise some 6 feet above ground level over most of Fayet. In 2008, the river carried away and killed four people. It also carried away a stretch of valuable land about 50 yards wide, one meter deep, and a couple miles long. As it carried the soil out from under houses, a school, and enormous trees, it also carried away the buildings and trees without a trace. Also irreplaceable is the food-growing capacity of this river-irrigated land, which can grow a new crop of food four times per year.

The long-term solution to problems like this all over Haiti is to use solar reflecting stoves or some other technology to replace wood-burning as the primary cooking method. In the short term, though, the community is asking for our help in building an erosion-prevention wall deep into the earth, reaching several feet above ground, along the entire riverfront in Fayet. The cost of this wall will be modest by U.S. standards—for a cost equal to the price of one house in Philadelphia, many lives, many houses, and many acres of organic farms can be saved.