Legislation authorizes USAID and the U.S. Forest Service to provide technical and financial aid to rebuild forests and fuel economic and environmental viability

Washington, D.C.— Congresswoman Katherine Clark (MA-5) and Senator Dick Durbin (IL) today introduced the Haiti and Armenia Reforestation Act that would authorize the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the U.S. Forest Service to provide financial assistance and technical resources to support reforestation in both countries. Centuries of deforestation in Haiti and Armenia has lowered land productivity, negatively impacted water quality, and exacerbated the effects of natural disasters.  This bill would contribute to reversing those trends by creating economic benefits for local communities through reforestation and from the sustainable uses of forests.  

“Forests play a crucial role in a country’s fiscal and environment health by providing shelter, food, water and jobs,” said Congresswoman Clark. “This legislation will help rejuvenate Haiti and Armenia’s natural resources and in turn, support their long-term economic vitality.”

“Continued deforestation will result in disastrous long-term environmental, health, and economic impacts in Haiti and Armenia,” said Durbin. “This bill supports the market-based sustainable restoration and rebuild of critical ecosystems to improve the overall vitality and quality of life in these countries. I have seen first-hand the impacts of deforestation in Haiti. We need to take action now to ensure people can make a livelihood while preventing future harm to the environment and global climate.”

“A healthy environment is directly tied to the public health of a community and a stable economy”, said co-sponsor Senator Bill Nelson (FL). This legislation empowers Haitians and Armenians to rebuild their forests and develop long-term economic opportunities.”

The bill supports efforts to create social and economic conditions for the environmental recovery of the forest by creating new sources of jobs, income, and investments in Haiti and Armenia. Ultimately, improved sustainable resource management will increase forest cover and reduce deforestation while providing economic opportunities to the populations.  

The bill outlines three different funding mechanisms to accomplish these objectives. It authorizes the USAID and the U.S. Forest Service to provide direct financial and technical aid; sets up a grant program to allow non-governmental organizations with reforestation expertise to support the effort; and it allows for the purchase of Haitian debt at a reduced cost, as well as an exchange of Armenian debt, with the commitment of contributing to forest recovery in both countries.    

“We would like to thank Rep. Clark for her leadership in introducing forward-leaning legislation to promote a constructive U.S.-Armenia partnership for healthy, sustainable forest growth in Armenia,” said ANC Eastern Massachusetts Chairman, Dr. Aram Kaligian.  “We look forward to working closely with the Massachusetts Delegation and our community allies and coalition partners to secure the adoption of this common-sense measure."

“We thank Senator Durbin, who was the first U.S. legislator to support sustainable Armenian and Haitian reforestation, including through the use of debt-forgiveness incentives to promote the growth of forest cover in both of these nations,” said ANC Illinois Chair Maral Vartanian Abrahamian.  “The Haiti and Armenia Reforestation Act of 2018 – now introduced in both the Senate and House – sets clear timetables and establishes key benchmarks for progress toward vital reforestation initiatives in Armenia.”

Huge portions of the forest cover in Haiti and Armenia has been destroyed or degraded. In fact, archaeological records show nearly 35% of Armenia was initially forested and only 7% is forested today. Similarly, over 60% of Haiti was forested in 1923 compared to approximately 10% today. Forests play a crucial role in supporting human and animal ecosystems. More than 1.6 billion people around the globe depend on forests for their livelihood as forests provide food, fresh water, clothing, medicines, and shelter. They’re also the habitat for nearly 2/3 of the species on Earth, including species essential to medical research and agricultural productivity.

Deforestation has greatly reduced Armenia and Haiti’s ability to respond to and recover from natural disasters. In Haiti, hurricanes have killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands more, partly because of the clearing of large hillsides that enable rainwater to run off into residential settlements. The effects of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake also reduced hillside stability and caused significant mudslides throughout the country.

In Armenia, deforestation has caused tens of millions of dollars in damage due to flooding and wildfires, including the recent devastation caused to the Khosrov Forest Reserve, which is among the oldest protected areas in the world.  This bill aims to prevent these devastating consequences of deforestation.