There are a number of things about Haiti that made it possible for Hurricane Matthew, a category 4 storm with gale force winds in excess of 145 mph, to wreak so much havoc on the Caribbean island nation.
To listen to The Weather Channel's Jennifer Delgado, though, one could easily get the impression the Haitian people were to blame for the storm's impacts. In a recent segment dedicated to tracking Matthew's movement through the Caribbean, Delgado made a point of explaining how the physical damage caused by a hurricane can be exacerbated by deforestation.
When there are no trees to act as a buffer for the powerful winds and torrential rainfall caused by hurricanes, landmasses are prone to substantial flooding and the destabilization of soil on mountainsides that can lead to deadly landslides. There are a number of factors that have led to Haiti losing nearly 98% of its forests, like increased demand for charcoal for fuel, but Delgado laid the blame on Haitian children whom she claimed were "so hungry, they actually eat the trees.”
While there are a number of fruit-bearing trees native to Haiti, none of them are varieties that people harvest for food. As a number of people pointed out on social media, Delgado's comments evoked the image of impoverished children literally gnawing on trees (and endangering the island) as an answer to Haiti's ongoing food crisis.
"Weather Channel leadership please make sure to have educated and knowledgeable people talking to the public," Phedra Remarais, a woman from Baton Rouge, wrote in a Facebook post. "Yes, this is an environmental problem, and yes it needs to be resolved. Open a book and read about a place before you get on the air!"
Within hours, Remarais' post made it all the way to The Weather Channel's president David Clark who reached out to Remarais via e-mail to express his concerns over Delgado's comments and assure her that he was looking into the matter personally.
"We are terribly sorry for the on air error and are taking measures to correct it, it never should have happened period," Clark wrote. "The team is very concerned about the people of Haiti and we will do our utmost to serve the public there in our coverage."
On Tuesday, during another segment on Matthew's progression, Delgado addressed the fallout in response to her comments with a semi-apology and an explanation of her intentions.
"I want to begin by apologizing for a statement I made yesterday that was found inappropriate. My intention is always to inform and educate," Delgado said. "I wanted to spotlight these incredibly difficult conditions that many people in Haiti continue to face."