In the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti one week ago, permaculture is being proposed as a solution to provide a long-term sustainable future for the poorest nation in the western hemisphere. Permaculture, an approach to designing human settlements and perennial agricultural systems that mimic the relationships found in natural ecologies, would allow Haitians to build self-sufficient environments and reduce their reliance on industrial systems of production and distribution.
Since the 7.3 magnitude earthquake hit just outside the country’s capital Port-Au-Prince, there has been little to no backup power, sewage, water, housing, or food aid systems in place. “When you get masses of dispossessed people without infrastructure or homes you get an excess of untreated sewage, polluted water systems and great risk of waterborne diseases like cholera, a critical lack of food not only in the short but medium term, a lack of shelter and cooking facilities”, wrote Maddy Harland for Permaculture Magazine.
Techniques already used in permaculture such as hygienic compost toilet design, provision of low energy devices, planting of gardens and planning of sustainable urban and rural agriculture could help those affected meet their immediate and long term needs. “Give power back to the (little) people, as well as developing larger-scale renewables”, Harland writes, “it is far more resilient to natural disasters”.
Permaculture has been used in disaster relief before. In the early 1990s, when Cuba was suffering under the petroleum embargo, permaculturists designed sustainable food systems, setting up cooperatives and market gardens, and implementing agricultural systems which used no pesticides or fertilizers. After Sri Lanka was hit by the 2004 tsunami, several communities were rebuilt as eco-villages, with carbon saving devices and designs.
“Without a doubt resources and expertise are moving en mass to Haiti”, wrote Evan Schoepke for Punkrock Permaculture, “but beyond this temporary relief, what will sustain this nation of 10 million people when it’s left in an even poorer position than ever before? This is where permaculture design comes in, with an adaptable and ever evolving tool kit that can be of vital assistance in disaster relief and the long recovery period to follow.”