Public and community infrastructures have reached a critical stage of decay. Many of the regions that were previously accessible by road from the capital are now outside the national road system. Certain areas, for example, have lost the advantages they had gained in the past, such as the ability to receive medical services from trained personnel or to have access to market outlets for their production. This productive and collective capital, which is so essential to the development of the poorest sectors in the rural areas, has been whittled down in a distressing way and must be revitalized in order to avoid excluding a significant part of the rural population from participating in development efforts and improving their living conditions.
Public transportation, as it is understood in the United States, does not exist in Haiti. Most Haitians travel by private car, by bicycle, or on foot. There are about 36 vehicles per 1,000 inhabitants. The road system consists mainly of unmarked and unpaved roads. Local knowledge is necessary to traverse the country. Airports and ports serve the major urban areas.
Haiti's road system is plagued by insufficient funding and a harsh climate. Seasonal torrential rains ravage the roads that are in place. The United States built much of the road network during the U.S. occupation (1915-34), and thus many stretches need extensive maintenance. Many of the country's bridges are no longer passable. Because road construction has been largely haphazard, no accurate mapping exists of Haiti's road network. At last count (1999), the country had 1,011 kilometers of paved roads and 3,149 kilometers of unpaved roads. Most paved roads surround and service Port-au-Prince, where about 85 percent of the country's traffic is reported to be. Traffic congestion can be extreme in urban areas.
No formal licensing or training program exists for Haitian drivers. Although Haitian law requires that applicants pass both a written and a driving test to qualify for a drivers license, many Haitian drivers appear unaware of traffic laws. Signaling imminent actions is not widely practiced and not all drivers use turn indicators or international hand signals properly. For instance, many drivers use their left blinker for all actions, including turning right and stopping in the road, and others flap their left arm out the window to indicate that they will be taking an unspecified action. Drivers do not always verify that the road is clear before switching lanes, turning, or merging.
Speed limits are posted on some roads, but the police rarely have the manpower to enforce them. Speed limits are seldom posted and are generally ignored. Speeding is the cause of many fatal traffic accidents in Haiti, as are overloaded vehicles on winding, mountainous roads and vehicles without brakes. Poor maintenance and mechanical failures often cause accidents as well. Drivers should be particularly cautious at night, as unlighted vehicles can appear without warning.
Right of way is not widely observed in Haiti, and there are few operational traffic lights or traffic signs. It is advisable at most intersections to stop and verify that there is no oncoming traffic even if it appears that you have the right of way. Drivers can be quite aggressive and will seldom yield. Walls built to the edge of roads frequently make it impossible to see around corners, forcing drivers to edge their cars into the road at intersections to check for oncoming traffic.
Driving in Haiti must be undertaken with extreme caution. The situation on the roads can be described as chaotic at best, and it is advisable for those with no knowledge of Haitian roads and traffic customs to hire a driver through a local hotel. Roads are generally unmarked, and detailed and accurate maps are not widely available. Lanes are not marked and signs indicating the direction of traffic flow seldom exist. This lack of organization, along with huge potholes that appear without warning, may cause drivers to execute unpredictable and dangerous maneuvers in heavy traffic. The Haitian government lacks adequate resources to assist drivers in distress or to clear the road of accidents or broken-down vehicles blocking the flow of traffic. While drinking and driving is illegal in Haiti, people frequently drive after drinking, especially at night.
Those who drive in Haiti should do so defensively and conservatively, avoid confrontations such as jockeying for position, and remain aware of the vehicles around them. Drivers should carry the phone numbers of people to call for assistance in an emergency, as Haitian authorities are unlikely to respond to requests for assistance. When traveling outside of Port-au-Prince, drivers should caravan with other vehicles to avoid being stranded in the event of an accident or breakdown.
In addition to vehicles, a variety of other objects may appear on the road in Haiti, such as wooden carts dragged by people or animals, small ice cream carts, animals, mechanics working on vehicles parked on the street, and vendors and their wares. Old and poorly serviced vehicles lead to frequent traffic accidents and blockages. Vehicles are often abandoned in the road or by the side of the road. There are few marked crosswalks and sidewalks, and pedestrians often wend their way through traffic in urban areas.
Public transportation, as it is usually defined, does not exist in Haiti. While Haitians use buses, "tap-taps," and taxis, which may observe regular routes, much like public transportation, none of these should be considered reliable. The Embassy strongly discourages their use.
Port-au-Prince serves as Haiti's primary port for both cargo and passenger ships. The government currently owns and operates the port, but plans for privatization are under consideration. Tenders for privatization, however, have been pushed back repeatedly. The port at Port-au-Prince occupies nearly 15 hectares and has the service of a gantry crane capable of lifting containers up to 30 tons. Miragoâne and Cap-Haïtien are Haiti's other main ports for exports. Smaller ports at Petit Goâve, Gonaïves, Jacmel, and Port-de-Paix are also active. The county's smaller ports lack the modern machinery needed to handle heavy volume.
Port-au-Prince is home to Haiti's only international airport. Despite poor facilities, the U.S. Department of Transportation examined improvements and declared the airport in fulfillment of international safety standards in 2000. Only two years before, the same body had condemned the airport as unsafe. The small airport at Jérémie serves the domestic travel needs of the southwestern portion of the country. In total, Haiti has four airports with paved runways and eight with unpaved runways. Because of poor facilities at airports, helicopter travel has become an important tool for international forces serving in Haiti.
Haiti has fewer than 100 kilometers of navigable inland waterways. Most of the country's rivers and streams tend to be short and swift flowing because of the mountainous terrain and narrow peninsulas. All the rivers rise and fall significantly with seasons.
Haiti has no pipelines.
Haiti has only a small system of privately owned railroad tracks serving the port regions of the country.
Haiti has the lowest telephone density in the Caribbean. Its average of 3.25 subscribers per 100 inhabitants is far below the Latin American/Caribbean average of 34 subscribers per 100 inhabitants. Until recently, the Haitian government completely controlled the telecommunications industry. Most rural people, and many even in urban areas, did not have access to a reliable phone line. Haiti had about 140,000 fixed phone lines in use in 2004. Télécommunications d'Haïti (the state company - Teleco) allowed two new service providers to enter the market in 1998. They made reliable telephone service available to those who could afford it, providing both fixed and mobile wireless phone service. Consequently, the number of cellular subscribers in Haiti increased dramatically?to 400,000 in 2004. Although still expensive for most Haitians, cellular phones have extended phone service into rural areas of the country previously outside the fixed network.
Internet access has come slowly to Haiti. Initially, Teleco refused to give Internet entrepreneurs access to phone lines. However, private companies worked to bring the Internet to the island. The country's first Internet café opened in 1997. In 2003 a U.S. company entered the market to provide broadband Internet service. Later that year, a state plan emerged to subsidize Internet connections for schools. However, the plan was halted before any real progress occurred. As of 2005, Haiti had about 500,000 Internet users. The government does not impose restrictions on Internet access.
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