Public protests against rising food and fuel prices in Haiti, in the Carribean Sea, have grown increasingly heated.
With a death toll of five, the violence is still expanding. On April 7, tens of thousands of people took to the street in the capital, Port-au-Prince.
On April 8, starving masses attempted to storm the presidential palace, demanding the resignation of President Rene Preval.
Such a crisis does not develop overnight: Problems in Haiti have been a long time in the making. For more than a hundred years, the Haitian government and public have been destroying the environment they depend on for their livelihood, and the consequences of their actions were inevitable. This should serve as a warning to Taiwan.
Haiti and the neighboring Dominican Republic are two parts of the island of Hispaniola, located to the east of Cuba in the Caribbean Sea. Both countries were European colonies and endured authoritarian rule for prolonged periods of time.
For decades after the 1930s, the Dominican Republic was governed by dictator Rafael Trujillo and later by Joaquin Balaguer.
The country’s approach to environmental protection was very different from that of Haiti resulting in the strong contrast that exists today.
Looking down from a plane, Haiti has a light yellow tinge and is covered in deforested hills, while the Dominican Republic is a luscious green and covered in vegetation.
Jared Diamond, a University of California, Los Angeles professor of geography and physiology who won the Pulitzer Prize in 1998 and the Aventis Prize for his book Guns, Germs and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, spent an entire chapter of his 2005 book Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed on detailed descriptions and comparisons of these two countries.
Taiwan has developed a lot in the past five or six decades. At the same time, the country’s environment has been greatly damaged.
With president-elect Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) set to be inaugurated on May 20, some people have voiced concern that staffers in the Ma camp value development over environmental protection and that Ma and his team will neglect environmental issues.
I suggest that Ma and his advisers pay more attention to this issue and adopt a long-term approach.
In this respect, the Ma government should follow the Dominican Republic’s example, not Haiti’s.
I also hope that the public will monitor the new government to help protect the lifeblood of Taiwan’s sustainable existence so future generations will also have the opportunity to enjoy the beauty of Taiwan’s mountains and streams.
We need to protect the beautiful island on which we all depend.
Wang Chih-shao is a high school physics teacher.
Translated by Anna Stiggelbout
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