In Haiti, rising lake levels plague both people and animals

Miami HeraldNovember 7, 2008 

MALPASSE, Haiti — The owners of an $18-a-night motel with a dancing floor closed up shop. Fishermen converted their boats into water taxis. Roadside food vendors abandoned coveted spots.

For these workers whose livelihoods depend on Haiti's busiest and most profitable commercial corridor on the border with the Dominican Republic, it wasn't just bad enough that three weeks of deadly summer storms forced them to pack their goods and flee.

Lake Azuei, Haiti's largest lake and a habitat for rare birds and marine life, busted its banks, flooding several towns.

''Before the storms, few people passed but business was good enough,'' Viliane Garriès, 40, said as she stirred a steaming pot of chicken bouillon near a customs building.

"Now even fewer people pass, and business is so slow.''

Problems caused by over-spilling lakes continue to plague Haiti months after deadly storms over the summer.

In the South, the Miragoane Lake remains flooded, disrupting lives and commerce.

In Malpasse, government workers successfully cut a temporary road through a nearby mountain two weeks ago and raised the road with gravel to stop flooding from the Azuei.

But even with the resumption of traffic and trade, which generated $18 million in customs revenue last year, authorities acknowledge they have not solved the source of the problem: the lake's rising waters.

Those waters have been rising for at least two years, sparking calls by environmentalists and residents for urgent action.

''The government is very, very concerned about the lake,'' said Ludner Remarais, departmental director for the Ministry of Environment for the West region, home to Malpasse and the lake.

Specialists and officials are studying, among other issues, water flow to and from the lake, which sits on a major earthquake fault line.

''We are also studying the effect on the lake's biodiversity,'' Remarais said, "because with the problem of sediment buildup in the lake for example, we are almost certain that the biodiversity of the lake is going to change.''

A deep blue oasis in an otherwise barren country, the 65-square-mile lake supports a rich habitat of American crocodiles and more than 100 species of plants and migratory birds, including flamingos.

It is the lifeblood of the area's 60,000 people, many of whom fish in its waters.

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