She's particularly worried about the denuded hills surrounding the northern port city of Cap-Haitien, where the combination of deforested hillsides, inadequate drainage and substandard housing literally condemns the area to furious flooding. More than 10 people died in November after stormwaters crashed through the impoverished area. Were an earthquake to rock Cap Haitien followed by a tsunami, Russo says, she doubts the city will survive.
"The houses are poorly made, and the streets are narrow. If the houses ever collapse, people will not be able to run for their lives. They will be stuck. And it's all exacerbated by the fact that there are no trees," she says. Sometimes, she says, when driving past bare mountains, "I say to myself, 'Oh, my God, all these trees, they went to Port-au-Prince for charcoal.'"
The Haitian government is slowly trying to untangle the threads of the country's interwoven climate change and energy problems. EDH has announced work on new transformers and is installing about 40,000 meters that can be read remotely in an effort to curb theft. But critics say change isn't happening fast enough. Energy Minister Rene Jean-Jumeau says his country badly needs a clear energy policy to drive private investment but acknowledges that bureaucratic inertia and uninterest seem to be winning the day.
Slow walking to a distant solution
"We've been working on it for 10, 15 years, and it's never been published," he says. "Not understanding the importance of it is one of the reasons that what may seem obvious for other countries is, for some reason, not obvious here."
And to the frustration of many who work in Haiti's energy sector, an anti-electricity theft bill that has been in the works for two years was recently resubmitted, ensuring even greater delays.
"Things move incredibly slowly here," says Mark Konold, a project manager for the Worldwatch Institute's climate change and energy program. Fresh off meetings in Haiti to discuss potential renewable energy plans with the government, state electricity company and other players in the country's energy market, Konold calls the lack of political will in the Haitian government to tackle the hardest problems like theft disheartening.
"Generation is a problem, but it's not the only problem. I personally think the larger problems are things like collection and theft, and the grid not being extensive enough or strong enough," he says. "There really needs to be a very firm signal from the president."
But Naylor, who worked in Port-au-Prince before the earthquake, saw the pride of Haitians in the aftermath helping one another because the government could not. He says he remains hopeful that Port-au-Prince at least will see full energy access in the near future. Taking apart the problem piece by piece, he says, is the key.
"Commercial customers don't buy power from EDH because it's not reliable. If Haiti's grid could become stable, customers like the manufacturers would be willing to tie in, and you'd have a revenue stream that will reduce costs." But, he says, "To build a sustainable grid you need to generate revenue, but you can't bring people out of poverty overnight. Nobody is ever going to come into Haiti and solve all the problems, but you take a piece."
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500