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About Haiti

Haiti is an independent republic occupying the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic, and bounded on the north by the Atlantic Ocean, on the east by the Dominican Republic, on the south by the Caribbean Sea, and on the west by the Windward Passage, which separates it from Cuba. Its area is 27,750 sq km (10,714 sq mi), slightly larger than Maryland. Port-au-Prince is Haiti's capital and largest city.

Haiti is the most densely populated nation and has the lowest per capita income of any country in the western hemisphere.  Map of HaitiPlagued by disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, political upheaval and deforestation, more than three quarters of the population live in extreme poverty.  Because of the dreadful World map showing location of Haiticonditions, people often try to immigrate to the United States or the Dominican Republic in search of better opportunities.  Click on map for larger image.

Click
here to see Haiti on a world map.

For Haitians, daily life is a struggle for survival.  An estimated 80 percent of the population lives in poverty. These people, many of whom farm small plots of poor mountain land, are often malnourished.  Famine-like conditions plague many parts of the country. Eating weeds and bark to stave off hunger is common year-round. Many have turned to eating clay just to survive.

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The incidence of diseases ranging from intestinal parasites to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) is extremely high.  The United Nations calls Haiti a "silent emergency," noting that its vital statistics rival those of sub-Saharan Africa:

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Infant mortality is 95 per 1,000 births; life expectancy at birth is only 49 years. 

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One out of 8 kids will die in Haiti before the age of 5.

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One in three Haitian children is malnourished.

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Haiti ranks dead last on the International Water Poverty Index.

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Less access to clean water and sanitation than residents of Ethiopia or Sierra Leone.

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Third-highest rate of hunger in the world, behind Somalia and Afghanistan.

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Malnutrition rate is higher than Angola's, and life expectancy is lower in Haiti than in Sudan.

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A greater percentage of Haitians live in poverty than citizens of the war-ravaged Congo.

The world doesn't have any idea how bad this situation is getting here; nobody's paying any attention to Haiti," says Alain Grimard, a senior diplomat with the United Nations Development Program based in Haiti. "And at the heart of it is the very severe environmental crisis in this country. The Haitian case is ... unique in the world now; you have too many people living on land that can no longer support them."

The country's climate is generally hot, with cooler weather from December to February.  Rainy weather in the spring and fall can make roads virtually impassable, isolating rural communities.  Hurricanes occasionally deal a further blow to living conditions on the island.

The Creole culture is a distinctive fusion of African, French, and West Indian elements.  Haitians are particularly proud of their art, which has drawn international interest for its vitality and vivid colors.

A quest for fire has destroyed trees and forests, turning once-lush mountains into deserts. Rivers and lakes are dying, and tons of mounting garbage and contaminants are breeding disease. By every measure, Haiti's 8 million inhabitants are living in a state of profound ecological crisis, a catastrophe little noticed by world leaders preoccupied by wars and conflicts in larger lands.  In the last five decades, more than 90 percent of its tree cover has been lost an area three times the size of Florida's Everglades. The resulting erosion has destroyed two-thirds of the country's farmland since 1940, while its population has quadrupled.

"People don't want to leave here, but in the end we have to eat, we have to survive," says Liberus Mesadieu, a schoolteacher and farmer who lives outside of Bombardopolis, where farmers dig up the roots of long-gone trees to make charcoal the only crop that brings a steady income. While Mesadieu is acutely aware that uprooting trees is threatening his ability to raise other crops, "the choice is between a tree and my children," he says.  "Which would you pick?"

The Pan American Health Organization said only 30 percent of Haitian children had been fully vaccinated against measles, polio, mumps and rubella in the 1990s. HIV / AIDS kills 30,000 Haitians and orphans an estimated 200,000 children each year. That gives Haiti the highest per-capita AIDS death rate in the hemisphere and one of the highest in the world.


 

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