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Geography and Climate

The country of Haiti is about the size of Maryland and covers the western third of the island of Hispaniola, the second largest island in the Caribbean after Cuba, 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's 27,750 sq km (10,714 sq mi) includes the islands of Gonave, Tortuga, Vache, Les Cayemites, and Navassa.

About two-thirds of the country is mountainous. Haiti 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). Five mountain ranges (Massif du Nord, Montagnes Noires, Chaine de Mateaux, Massif de la Hotte, and Massif de la Selle) cover 75 percent of Haiti's land surface. The highest peak, Morne de la Selle, rises to an elevation of 2,680 meters (8,790 ft) along with a few high altitude locations on the southern peninsula. 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.

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. There are four major flatlands: the northern plain between the Atlantic Ocean and the Massif du Nord; the Artibonite Plain to the north of Chaine de Mateaux; the cul-de-sac between the Chaine de Mateaux and the Massif de la Selle; and the Central Plateau to the east of the Montagnes Noires. More than lOO small rivers flow through Haiti.

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.

Haiti's impressive coastal and marine habitats include mangrove wetlands, seagrass meadows, coral reefs, and numerous protected bays and estuaries. The diverse coastal system has white coral sand beaches, limestone cliffs, and rocky shorelines. Haiti's near-shore underwater landscapes are considered to be spectacular. These habitats are well developed and could potentially be managed as renewable resources for fishing and tourism. Haiti's resource base is under acute stress. The Haitian peasantry is faced with overwhelming challenges to its way of life. Agricultural production per capita has dropped at least 33 percent from 1980 to 2000 and produces a declining share of the gross national product (GNP). Broad-based surveys classify the vast majority of peasant farmers as indigent according to standards of the FAO. The anarchic growth of urban areas also reflects the crisis in rural livelihood and contributes to deterioration of the resource base.

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