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Haiti’s hills were once lined with lush greenery – but now it’s 98 percent bereft of plant coverage, making it one of the least forested nations on earth. To address the issue the government just promised to plant as many as 50 million trees a year in order to double coverage from two percent to just over four percent by 2016, The Guardian reports. In addition to restoring some of the forests clear cut for colonial plantations and felled for cooking fuel, the move is expected to reduce poverty and improve quality of life for millions of residents.

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Trees provide a host of environmental services that are best understood when they are no longer there. For example, every time it rains a lot in Haiti, mud slides kill thousands of people because there are no trees to absorb the water. Soil quality is also drastically reduced when trees are absent, and studies have linked a serious decline in agricultural productivity to the country’s dramatic arboreal disappearance.

USAid, the United Nations and other organizations have long recognized the need to plant trees in Haiti, where The Guardian reports 40-50 million are felled each year. The Haiti forest social initiative backed by the Clinton Foundation, economist Muhammad Yunus’s social business initiative, and Sir Richard Branson‘s Virgin Unite will now receive government support, those this project is separate from its own determination to have 29 percent forest cover by 2050.

In addition to exacerbating the affects of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and flooding, tree loss contributes to water scarcity and low agricultural productivity. So, planting millions of trees will make a huge difference, but the local populace must be convinced to use alternative fuels for cooking, such as solar and kerosene, which the government hopes to achieve with a dedicated educational campaign. Additionally, though some are skeptical of the government’s ability to carry out their plan, the country’s environmental surveillance corps will be called upon to start monitoring illegal logging activity, which infractions will be punished with fines and even prison time.

Via The Guardian