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Villages slowly vanish as Hispaniola lakes grow


BOCA DE CACHON, Dominican Republic — No one thought much about it when the largest lake in the Caribbean began rising in a year of heavy rains. But then it never stopped.

Lake Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic has doubled in size over the past eight years, swallowing thousands of acres of farms and more than a dozen villages.

In neighboring Haiti, smaller Lake Azuei has also steadily swelled, destroying homes and farms as well as disrupting trade by occasionally blocking a key cross-border highway. The two lakes are only three miles (five kilometers) apart and are fed by some of the same streams.

It’s been a slow-motion disaster and potentially catastrophic for two countries already burdened by major environmental challenges. The waters’ rise has worsened exponentially in recent years, especially after heavy rains in 2007 and 2008 hit the island of Hispaniola, which both countries share. Tropical Storm Isaac dumped more water on the region last month, sparking more damage.

While the cause remains a mystery, theories as to why the lakes are rising range from sediment and trash clogging the water system to increased rainfall from climate change and heavy storms.

Dominican farmer Domingo Bautista recalls how the water gradually overtook his sugar cane banana and sweet potato crop. Within two months, the family had to abandon their one-bedroom home in the sunbaked village of Boca de Cachon.

“The water just crept up on us,” said Bautista, who now works as a janitor at a roadside inn. “It didn’t happen overnight.”

The spread of Enriquillo has flooded 16 communities in two provinces, more than 46,500 acres of agriculture land and 1,000 properties, according to a July study authored by the Technological Institute of Santo Domingo and the NOAA CREST Center of the City College of New York. In all, some 10,000 families have lost cattle, farmland or their homes.

In Haiti, heavy rains made the situation worse last year and dozens of families were forced to evacuate. Many migrant laborers who cross into the Dominican Republic couldn’t make the journey.

Category: DR News |

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Last updated October 24, 2016 at 6:05 PM
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