Haiti - Introduction
Haiti is the second oldest independent country in the Western Hemisphere and is the oldest black republic in the world. It was established in 1804 by the only successful country-wide slave rebellion in history. However, Haiti, even after independence from France, was ruled by a succession of dictators. From one of the richest agricultural lands in the Americas In colonial times, Haiti has become the poorest country in the Western hemisphere. It is unable to produce enough food to adequately feed its population, most of whom are moderately malnourished. Life expectancy is short and infant mortality is high, about 12% of children dying before their first birthday. One third of all children die before their 5th birthday.
The population of Haiti today is about 8,300,000 people. 75% of the population live in rural areas, concentrated on small family plots in the few areas suitable for agriculture. In these areas, the population density is very high, increasing the problems of disease exposure and spread. Although the official language is French, the principal spoken language is Creole, used by about 90% of the people. About 50% of the population is illiterate.
It is a cliche of political science that in every society those who have power fight to maintain their influence in the face of challenges from those who are disenfranchised. In few parts of the world has that struggle been as longstanding or accompanied by such brutality as in Haiti. For half a millenium, Haiti has been the battleground for this most basic kind of political struggle. It is a classic contest between diametrically opposed visions of power and governance -- between the power of the few and the rights of the many. This battle has taken many forms and included many different participants. It began with the original Spanish voyagers' conquest of the indigenous Indian peoples and persisted with the French plantation owners' control over their African slaves. It continues today with the domination by certain elements of Haiti's tiny elite minority, supported by the army, of the rural peasants and urban poor.
Over 80% of Haiti's people live in abject poverty. Haiti is one of the most impoverished nations in the Western Hemisphere. The unemployment rate is estimated to be around 60 percent; and the literacy rate is approximately 45 percent. Eighty percent of the population lives in abject poverty and the unemployment rate is estimated to be nearly 90 percent. Half the population of Haiti earns $60 or less per year. The total expenditure on health per person is $54 (compared to $4,499 in the USA and $483 in Mexico).
Less than 45 percent of all Haitians have access to potable water. The life expectancy rate in Haiti is only 53 years. Seventy-six percent of Haiti's children under the age of five are underweight, or suffer from stunted growth and 63 percent of Haitians are undernourished. Ninety percent of all HIV and AIDS infections in the Caribbean are in Haiti: over 300,000 infected people have been identified and deaths from HIV/AIDS have left 163,000 children orphaned. Tuberculosis remains a major cause of adult mortality; rates are thought to be the highest in the hemisphere. Cases of TB in Haiti are more than ten times as high as those in other Latin American countries. Haiti's infant mortality rate is staggering: 74 deaths per 1,000 live births and the maternal mortality rate is approximately 1400 deaths for every 100,000. Only 1 in every 10,000 Haitians has access to a physician.
Most Haitians are Christian but have woven elements of the traditional African religions into their current religious practices. This is the practice of "Voodoo." The term "voodoo" which Americans have come to think of as something dangerous or secret, merely refers to an Important and open part of Haitian religious life.
The nation's capital, Port-Au-Prince, is the largest city and the commercial center of the country. It has an estimated population of 2,000,000 people. A large percentage of these people live in shacks and in extreme urban poverty. These parts of the cities have no sanitation or potable water and the residents of these neighborhoods have high rates of infection with tuberculosis and HIV. Other cities are Cap-Haitians (600,000) on the northern coast, Gonaives (34,000) on the east coast and Les Cayes (34,000) on the southern coast of the island.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
The country of Haiti is about the size of Maryland and covers the western third of the island of Hispaniola which it shares with the Dominican Republic. It is bordered by water on three sides, the Atlantic Ocean on the north and by the Caribbean Sea on the west and south. The Dominican Republic forms its eastern and only land border with another country. The island of Hispaniola is about halfway between Cuba and Puerto Rico; the Windward Strait separates it from Cuba which is only 50 miles away. Haiti itself is a mountainous country, made up primarily of two rugged mountain chains extending from the Dominican border westward to form northern and southern peninsulas around an ocean gulf (Golfe de la Gonave). The mountain chains are separated by a small central plain which contains Port au Prince, which lies on the gulf. Additional small areas of flat agricultural land are found in the midst of the northern mountain chain and along the north coast. About two-thirds of the country is mountainous. The highest mountain is Morne de la Selle (8959 feet, 2715 meters). Altitudes in the northern mountains range from 2000 to 4000 feet and in the southern mountains 4000 to 8900 feet. The terrain in the mountains is steep and eroded with deep gullies covered with a mixture of dense forest and open slope.
Haiti's rivers and streams arise in the mountains. Their flow depends on rainfall and ranges from torrential to totally dry. Flash flooding during rains is a significant hazard. The country's largest river, the Artibonite, is navigable for part of its length before it empties into the Golfe de la Gonave. The coast has many natural harbors most of which have good anchorage for the small craft used by fisherman.
The climate of Haiti depends on season, terrain and location. Most rainfall occurs between April and November with a lull during June and July. Because the rain is brought by Northeast trade winds, heavy rainfall occurs in the northern mountains and plains and on the peaks of the southern mountains. The central plain, including Port au Prince receives moderate rainfall (53 inches, 130 cm per year). Hurricanes with torrential rain and destructive wind are a threat in the late summer and fall.
The lowland areas of Haiti have a tropical climate. The temperature along the coasts averages about 81°F (27°C) with very little variation between summer and winter. The mountains are significantly cooler (61°F, 16°C) and routinely experience frost during the winter months.
Haiti is particularly susceptible to flooding because of large-scale deforestation on the Haitian half of the island, where most trees have been cut down to make charcoal for cooking. Without trees to slow or stop rainfall, the water runs over the sun-baked ground, filling low spots.
- US Embassy to Haiti
- State Department Background Notes
- CIA World FactBook
- Country Study Library of Congress
- Country Profile Library of Congress
- RIC Query - Haiti (30 July 2003)
- : Haiti World Bank
- MINUSTAH Stabilization Mission In Haiti
- Hatian Action Network
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