And this is where I came in. The emergency charity of which I am a member, MapAction, had done several weeks of support to the relief coordination operations and several of the team had gone on for several months to work with individual sectors – the health, food, water operations that were a vital life support to the country following the quake. I had been diverted on some other work at the time. But a couple of years later, I was asked by a consulting firm to work with them on a project looking at the potential for aquaculture in Haiti. It may sound like a minor factor when people remain unhoused, but it was part of a much larger programme to look at building up economic activity in Haiti, improving the private sector and encourage the large Haitian diaspora to invest in their own country.
Like a lot of short consultancies, the proposal happens early on and you hear nothing about it for months. I went off and did work in several other places and one day an email plonked in my inbox from the development consultants that the bid had been successful. I was to be teamed with a French Canadian aquaculturist and our team leader who spoke little English, a Frenchman who lived in Brighton, and me who spoke only grunting French with a smattering of shoulder shrugging. I’d stressed in the bid that it would be preferable for me to have two trips, one to help me fact find and obtain all the data I needed (always a problem for a GIS analysis project), and the second to work on the data and produce the results. These were to be split about two months apart. My role appeared to be to help the team leader decide where would be suitable for aquaculture to exist. This turned out to be an interesting intellectual challenge as there were several sorts of aquaculture out there to choose from and they needed different conditions for them to be successful. One was fish ponds which needed nice flat areas (at a premium in much of Haiti), could benefit from a source of clay and would be useful if close to arable farming as a low cost access to feed. The other was through fish cages in natural water bodies. Herein lay a problem. Much of Haiti’s rivers were polluted; in urban areas by the sheer quantity of people with a lack of access to suitable sanitation and the other issues of industrial and urban solid and liquid wastes. And throughout the country the rivers were choked with sediment. Even in a perfectly stable environment, Haiti had steep sided valleys and run off inevitably brought down soil and gravel that formed large deltaic braided riverbeds. Add in the deforestation of the uplands and the widespread landslides on unstable slopes, the sediment load went off the scale. Any cages would fill up with sediment or be dislodged by flooding. Fortunately there was a solution. There are a limited number of freshwater lakes in Haiti but one exceptional but foresighted government decision from the past was to dam some steep valleys and produce “lac collinaire” – hill lakes that resourced the local communities with fresh water. In theory these could all be stocked with fish.