Blog - ECHO in the field

The waters keep on rising

Malta Recio, pictured here in front of her new vegetable plot, is one of the farmers being helped to re-establish her livelihood.01/02/2012 – From a distance, the sparkling expanse of Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic looks enticing. It is only when you get close that you realise something is wrong. Trees emerging from water might look right in a mangrove swamp, but not in this otherwise dry region. It is evident that the land has recently been inundated and the dead wood stands stark, like failed sentinels, helpless against the encroachment.

It isn’t just the trees that are affected: people are victims as well. More than a thousand small farmers have seen their fields disappear, and their livelihoods destroyed. In an area where 22% of the children are malnourished, the rising waters spell potential disaster, even if its onset is very slow.

Experts are not entirely sure why Lake Enriquillo is getting bigger. In 2000, it had a surface of around 20,500 hectares. In 2009, following two big tropical storms, it reached more than 30,000 hectares. Broadly speaking, it tends to grow in size during rainy seasons, but doesn’t recede when the rains stop. One theory is that the outflows have been clogged by silting as a result of deforestation on the surrounding hills and mountains. Seismic shifts are another possibility: the Lake is close to the Haitian border and not far from the epicentre of the earthquake that devastated Port-au-Prince in 2010. Higher rainfall during the hurricane season may be a factor too.

Whatever the reasons, the consequences for the shore-side communities are all too clear. This is why ECHO has provided €200,000, through the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO), for a range of livelihood activities aimed at boosting the resilience of the affected population. Beneficiaries have received seeds and equipment for vegetable gardening and tree planting, as well the opportunity to take part in cash for work activities.

The support has come from ECHO’s “small-scale disaster” funding. Small-scale it may be, in terms of the numbers affected, but it is still a story of people in need who can now sow the seeds of hope for a better future.

Story and photos: ECHO/Simon Horner
European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO)
Lake Enriquillo, Dominican Republic

The vegetables are grown in raised boxes, in gardens allocated to beneficiaries a safe distance from the lake.The original road from Jimini, around the western side of the lake, is now submerged.

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