Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Haiti: The Salt of the Ocean


We continue to track the efforts of Demeter Russafov (once from Asheville) and his associate Ewan Bloomfield who are both with AMURT in Haiti. (Great Volunteer Opportunity - Mapping Haiti Salt Ponds ) As you may remember Ewan has initiated a GIS/GPS study as part of AMURT's effort to redevelop salt ponds in Haiti. Today I had an email from Ewan and he has put together this update on his project. If you have interest in spending 4 or 5 weeks in Haiti to help on this project please contact Ewan.
Dear Neil
I am sorry that I have not written for a while, but have been bogged
down with other things.

The first WFP food arrived and we have been trying to start the work on the first new salt production methods. I have finally been able to write something for the blog about the salt production and our plans. I would also like to write something about the irrigation canal project which also has a GPS aspect and will do this when I have time. Unfortunately the lady from WFP has been away for quite a while, and although I have been pressurizing her about the database project she has still not been able to come up with anything - I will persist though!!!

Hope all is well with you and the GIS beer evenings are going well.
Best regards
Ewan

The Salt Ponds in Haiti--a brief history
Although salt has been produced in the north west of Haiti for a long time, it has always been produced using a very archaic method, which is generally now not used in many parts of the world. The main area of salt production is in the coastal region of the north-west Artibonite, in the north west of Haiti, which consists of flat-lying mudflats, with high clay content (see GE photo above). The surrounding area is very dry and desertified, having undergone extensive deforestation in the recent and historical past, and is now only able to support limited agriculture, often only in areas close to natural water sources, which are very limited. The coastal areas have particularly harsh living conditions, with limited opportunities for commercial activity, thus making solar salt production a highly attractive financial activity. Basins, approximately 40 metres by 50 metres, are dug to a depth of 2 to 3 metres, and filled with salt water through channels. The basins are then left for between 3 to 6 months until the brine reaches a high enough salinity level where crystallisation can start to take place, and the salt can be collected by hand.

In October 2004 Hurricane Jeanne hit the north west of Haiti, which caused widespread devastation and destruction, including great loss of life. The hurricane greatly intensified the already high level of poverty, and the effects are still being felt today by the local population. The vast majority of the salt basins were also destroyed by the Hurricane when the soil from the inland areas became liquefied and flowed towards the ocean, often completely filling them. Only the more wealthy salt producers who had some form of savings, or who live or have family overseas, were able to rehabilitate their salt basins. The vast majority of the basins still currently remain out of production.
AMURT-Haiti started a food-for-work programme, funded by the WFP, in 2006, which resulted in the successful rehabilitation of 40 salt basins, which are now producing salt. A second food-for-work programme has just begun and work will hopefully begin during April, 2007. The second programme, which is much more extensive, will focus on both the rehabilitation of the salt basins as well as on the introduction of a more modern method of solar salt production, called the rational, or modern, method. The plan for the new six month project is to form a cooperative system in each of the four main salt production villages. Each cooperative system will involve the rehabilitation of a group of basins to form a complete integrated, rational method production system. The rational method requires the introduction of the brine from the sea and then the subsequent transfer from one basin to the next in systematic circuit, with the brine successively increasing in salinity. The rational method also involves the division of the basins into three types, with the largest reservoir basins, the intermediate concentrator basins, and finally the much smaller crystalliser basins, where the salt is collected.
As well as allowing the more regular production of salt, approximately every two weeks, the rational method also produces a significantly higher quality of salt. This cleaner salt does not need to be washed by the consumers, as is happening at present, and means that the salt can start to be iodised. The added iodine adheres to the outside of the salt grains, so when it is washed the iodine is removed. Haiti is a country which has been identified as suffering from iodine deficiency, which can result in such medical conditions as goiters, cretinism and brain damage. The iodisation of all salt produced in Haiti will hopefully significantly reduce, or even eliminate this condition. Many international medical groups are committed to making sure this happens in the near future (UNICEF, WHO, WFP, MI).
One aspect of the next project is the possibility of producing a GIS database. At present very little is known about the solar salt production industry, apart from that it is mainly produced in the north west of Haiti. It is not know how many basins have been constructed, how many basin owners or producers there are, or even how much salt is produced each year or what happens to the salt. The intention of creating a database is to define the outline of every basin, and then link this information to the owner, the producer and the current capacity of each basin. This will help define the current production, as well as to estimate the potential future production, and increase the efficiency of production, transportation and distribution of the salt. As there are many interconnected aspects to the solar salt production, the idea is to produce a database that can be kept up to date, and can trace the development of the salt production zone over time, including such things as the rate of iodisation of the salt, and rate of incorporation of the new rational method of salt production.
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