WASHINGTON, D.C.—Yesterday, it was announced that Congresswoman Katherine Clark of Massachusetts’ 5th District and Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois are introducing an act that would authorize USAID and the U.S. Forest Service to provide financial assistance and technical resources support to support reforestation in both Haiti and Armenia. Within ten years, the bill would aim to increase Armenia’s forest cover to at least 12 percent of its total land mass and for Haiti, the goal is set at seven percent.
Huge portions of forest areas in Haiti and Armenia have been destroyed or degraded in the last several decades. According to a fact sheet on the bill created by the Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), archeological data indicates that approximately 35 percent of the territory of present-day Armenia was originally forested. By 1990, less than 12 percent of Armenia’s territory was covered in forest. In 2016, that number was halved. Similarly, in Haiti, over 60 percent of the country consisted of forests in 1923, whereas today, forests comprise approximately 10 percent of land. The motivation for the bill stems from the understanding that forests play a crucial role in supporting human and animal ecosystems. The decrease in forest cover in both countries is anthropogenic, or related directly to human activity.
“Forests play a crucial role in a country’s fiscal and environment health by providing shelter, food, water, and jobs,” said Representative Clark. “This legislation will help rejuvenate Haiti and Armenia’s natural resources and in turn, support their long-term economic vitality.”The bill outlines three different funding mechanisms to support the efforts introduced by the bill.
Perhaps most notable about the bill, is its three tier projected model for funding, which—direct financial and technical aid from USAID and the U.S. Forest Service and grants—involves the possibility of debt-for-nature swaps for both nations. “Under this mechanism, a nongovernmental conservation group would work with the Haitian and Armenian governments and international creditors to trade debt for commitments and plans to reforest and protect key tracts of land,” read a press release from the ANCA. According to the 2017 Annual Foreign Credit Exposure Report, the total debt owed by the Government of Armenia to the United States government is $16.1 million.
“We would like to thank Rep. Clark for her leadership in introducing forward-leaning legislation to promote a constructive U.S.-Armenia partnership for healthy, sustainable forest growth in Armenia,” said ANC Eastern Massachusetts Chairman, Dr. Aram Kaligian. “We look forward to working closely with the Massachusetts Delegation and our community allies and coalition partners to secure the adoption of this common-sense measure.”
“We thank Senator Durbin, who was the first U.S. legislator to support sustainable Armenian and Haitian reforestation, including through the use of debt-forgiveness incentives to promote the growth of forest cover in both of these nations,” said ANC Illinois Chair Maral Vartanian Abrahamian. “The Haiti and Armenia Reforestation Act of 2018 – now introduced in both the Senate and House – sets clear timetables and establishes key benchmarks for progress toward vital reforestation initiatives in Armenia.”
Deforestation has greatly reduced Armenia and Haiti’s ability to respond to and recover from natural disasters. In Haiti, hurricanes have killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands more, partly because of the clearing of large hillsides that enable rainwater to run off into residential settlements. The effects of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake also reduced hillside stability and caused significant mudslides throughout the country. In Armenia, deforestation has caused tens of millions of dollars in damage due to flooding and wildfires, including the recent devastation caused to the Khosrov Forest Reserve, which is among the oldest protected areas in the world. This bill aims to prevent these devastating consequences of deforestation.
“Continued deforestation will result in disastrous long-term environmental, health, and economic impacts in Haiti and Armenia,” said Durbin. “This bill supports the market-based sustainable restoration and rebuild of critical ecosystems to improve the overall vitality and quality of life in these countries. I have seen first-hand the impacts of deforestation in Haiti. We need to take action now to ensure people can make a livelihood while preventing future harm to the environment and global climate.”