Although all types of land degradation occur in Haiti, including soil erosion and salinization, fertility loss, wildland fires, and pasture degradation, soil erosion is Haiti’s most acute, widespread, and best-known environmental problem [1], [2], [3], [4], [5]

Over 50% of the territory — mainly steep-sloped areas in 85% of the watersheds — is subject to high risk of erosion and no less than 6% of the country’s area, in five large watersheds, are already affected by irreversible degradation. The lack of sound, up-to-date data makes it difficult to evaluate the extent of soil degradation in Haiti. A 1990 World Bank study (cited in [6]) found soil losses in Haiti of 120–150 tonnes/ha/yr in many parts of the country. A very recent modelling study [7] yielded consistent figures; over 100 tonnes/ha of soil were estimated to be washed away every year in Haiti (compared with about 15 tonnes/ha across the border in the Dominican Republic). Soil erosion has gradually eliminated an average of some 3 cm of arable (top) soil over the last 50 years or so across the country. Although the extent of land degradation varies widely between the country’s regions, zones with severe soil erosion can be found in all departments. The proportion of land degraded is at least 20% in all departments; over 50% of the Nord’Ouest department’s land is degraded.

Land degradation increases the country’s vulnerability to climate-related hazards. The loss of soil reduces water infiltration and increases surface runoff, thus leading to increased flooding and exacerbating the consequences of storms and hurricanes, damaging infrastructure such as dams, irrigation systems, roads, and others [8]Equally important, land degradation adversely impacts ecosystem services. Soil loss causes a subsequent decline in agricultural productivity with serious economic consequences. Bellande (2009) [6] estimated agricultural production losses due to soil erosion in the mountains to be in the range of US$4–5 million per year, mostly from cultivation on slopes steeper than 50%. The impact on local food supply and security has not been estimated.

By reducing water infiltration and groundwater recharge, soil erosion reduces water availability for agriculture and consumption by the population, leading to desertification and putting additional pressure on the remaining forested areas; by altering the water flood flows, it adversely affects the quality of coastal waters, modifies the erosion-deposition balance in shorelines stabilization, and others.


Several factors have contributed to the extensive land degradation in Haiti. The country’s mountainous topography with large extents of steep-sloped hillsides, together with the fragile, erosion-prone calcareous soils, plus the intense convective rains that prevail in the country set a fragile physical scenario.

Deforestation leaves the soil exposed to the direct impact of raindrops causing the soil particles to be washed away. Haiti has experienced extensive deforestation; dense natural forests currently cover less than 10,000 ha [9], mostly in protected areas (Macaya, Parc de la Visite, and Forêt des Pins), and 25 of the 30 main watersheds of the country are known to be severely or completely deforested.

Due to its topography, arable land is relatively scarce in Haiti; it is estimated to be only 10,700 km² or 39% of the country area [10]. However, population growth and the increased demand for food push farmers to cultivate marginal land. The area actually cultivated in 2018 was estimated at 18,400 km² (66%) [10], indicating that 670,000 ha of marginal land (mostly steep slopes) unsuitable for agriculture were cultivated, often with annual, erosion-intensive crops, using inadequate agricultural practices (e.g., ploughing along the slope direction), with shortened fallow periods, which depletes soil nutrients and accelerates degradation.


Key policies and governance approach

Haiti ratified the UN Convention to Combat Desertification in 1996; formulated its National Plan in 2009 with financial and technical support from UNDP and GIZ; and submitted a revised national plan [5] in 2015 to align it with the UNCCD’s Strategic Framework 2008-2018.

In 2009, the Government of Haiti created the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Land Use Planning with the mission of formulating the government's policy on land use planning, watershed protection and management, water management, sanitation, urban planning and equipment.

The 2012 Strategic Development Plan for Haiti [11] included a specific subprogramme aimed at improving watershed management to protect, rehabilitate and enhance the environment and natural environments; ensure the protection of landscapes; manage the soil in an economical manner; protect agricultural land; and support and enable the sustainable development of natural resources.

The Ministry of the Environment’s (draft) Environmental Action Plan 2021 [12] includes a strategic objective aimed to effectively manage watersheds to facilitate the renewal of water resources and the protection of coastal and marine areas.


Successes and Remaining Challenges

As recognized in the 2015 aligned national programme of action to combat desertification [5], the actions envisioned in the original 2009 national plan could not be implemented. Similarly, Haiti’s PRAIS3 report to the UNCCD shows negative changes in all the indicators.

  • The absence of a spatial planning framework in Haiti has facilitated the increasing land degradation observed across the country. A territorial land-use planning scheme that integrates physical factors, population characteristics, and government responsibilities at the central and municipal levels is badly needed. This is fundamental to reorganize the use of the Haitian territory in a more sustainable manner and to rehabilitate or restore the areas that have been already damaged. Integrated watershed management must be incorporated into any development plan.
  • Once again, a long-term, comprehensive vision of land-use planning and management such as the one envisioned in the 2012 Strategic Development Plan for Haiti could help to address one of the root causes of land degradation.