Solving Haiti's Big Problem: An Evening with a Geologist
Recently, Ms. Rose Martin, an active member of the Haitian Community in South Florida, hosted a gathering on the big problems facing Haiti. On the menu was a variety of delicious Haitian traditional treats, but the evenings rare offering was the presentation given by the engineer, geologist, and environmentalist, Jocelyn David.
Speaking in his native tongue Creole, Mr. David took us on a 65 million year journey to clearly understand the origin of Haiti because one has to know where the country has been to know how to move it forward in a sustainable manner. He explained how the northern portion of the island of Haiti originated from three separate islands that merged and then collided with the southern peninsula which emerged from beneath the sea. The cities of Port-au-Prince and Croix des Bouquets, as well as Lake Azuie all lie along the line where the north collided with the south. As explained by Mr. David, that collision crushed rocks to produce the sand that forms the soil of Port-au-Prince, particularly the sand at Laboul, used for home construction. Unlike the sand obtained from rivers, Laboul's sand is more susceptible to crumbling during earthquakes.
Mr. David's presentation was solidly science based and spiced with the added wisdom gained from his field experiences in Haiti. He easily explained some of Haiti's vexing environmental problems. Asked about why lake Azuie has been expanding and engulfing adjacent farmlands, he explained that as a result of deforestation, sediment has been draining into the lake, filling it from the bottom and forcing its surface to expand.
As one of a handful of Haitian specialists in geology, Mr. David's advice has been sought after by various government and non-governmental organizations. Before the 2010 Earthquake, he warned Preval's government to prepare for an earthquake, particularly in Port-au-Prince. Unfortunately, with most Haitian officials not having lived through an earthquake and with competing commercial interests attracting their attention, the government considered him an alarmist and ignored his warnings.
After the earthquake, Mr. David continued his field work in Haiti and helped to document the places in Jacmel where the underlying tension in the tectonic plates can be seen compressing the rocks. Having explained the origins of various parts of the country, Mr David explained that each region is best suited for certain plants. This is just one among many reasons that he gave for why education in Haiti has to be tied to knowledge of Haitian geology.
Today, the mountains created by volcanoes are the source of water that cascade down to the island's numerous rivers. In general, these rivers run along the path of underlying fault lines. Mr. David has traveled the country and documented its numerous waterfalls. He shared their photographs with the audience enabling us to appreciate some of the charming beauty of our homeland. He stated the amount of energy that can be harvested from these falls as electricity generated from hydroelectric plants. These waterfalls can offer sustainable and inexpensive electricity. He presented compelling data to show that Haiti is wasting precious money importing foreign oil instead of investing in the water running visibly from its mountainside.
When asked if generating electricity from these waterfalls would ruin their use for religious, touristic, and recreational activities, he replied that development can occur concurrently with preservation of the country's cultural and religious heritage. He said that all countries do this and when not done in Haiti, it is only due to insensitivity and carelessness. Mr. David seems to be guided by science in his mind and Haitian culture in his heart. Yes, we can enjoy Sodo and provide electricity to the country as well. Imagine the much overdue miracle of having an illuminated pathway to Sodo produced by electricity from Sodo.
As one of a handful of geologists and enviromentalists specialized in Haitian geological history, Mr. David is a rare national treasure. In the Haitian community of South Florida, he is known as Engineer David. Born in Jacmel, he received his secondary school education in Port-au-Prince and studied geology in the United States at Florida International University (FIU). In 1981, he was one of three candidates chosen by the government of Haiti to receive training in geological sciences at FIU. He does not gloat of having benefited from this rare opportunity, but expressed regret that Haiti elected not to support other candidates even though outside of living expenses, tuition was covered in full by FIU. Today, Haiti has no student enrolled in this program while the Dominican Republic continues to support 10 students annually.
Engineer David addressed Haiti's big problem and offered a sustainable solution. He argued for the feasibility of Haiti having a continuous electric power grid free from foreign oil producers and importers who have a vested interest in ensuring reliance on oil generators, large and small. Affordable electricity is possible in Haiti thanks to our 65 million year old mountains sending water down to our rivers. According to Engineer David, a viable alternative to charcoal is real and feasible.