Southeastern Section - 62nd Annual Meeting (20-21 March 2013)

Paper No. 1
Presentation Time: 3:05 PM


VANNIER, Christian, Department of Anthropology, Grand Valley State University, 1 Campus Drive, 1138 Au Sable Hall, Allendale, MI 49401-9403,

Environmentalists and public policy circles alike have long known the dire state of Haiti’s natural resources and management infrastructure. International efforts to protect these resources and develop this infrastructure have found limited success due to misunderstandings of local sociopolitical contexts. The complexity of this sociocultural context and how it affects natural resource management is described for a southern department of Haiti where large rivers flow from the mountains to the north along the coastal plains and into the Caribbean Sea. One of the largest of these rivers, the Torbeck River, provides thousands of peasant farmers with the water necessary for their economic survival, but experiences periods of massive flooding following heavy rains.

As a result, the United Nations, European Union, and U.S. government has provided tens of millions of dollars financing cement irrigation canals, small dams, and gabion retaining walls to harvest and secure water resources for local populations. Yet local companies, non-governmental organizations, and social groups bring their own interpretations and meanings to these outside experts, institutions, and the massive resources they bring to impoverished local communities. The negotiation, competition, and cooperation between these institutions and those seeking to help may sabotage these international efforts, jeopardizing natural resource management in the region. Successful efforts to provide resource security must be done with an understanding and appreciation of sociopolitical contexts and their consequences for long-term project sustainability and resource security. Interdisciplinary cooperation is essential to understand these contexts and assure project success.