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.
by disease, malnutrition, illiteracy, political upheaval and
deforestation, more than three quarters of the population live
in extreme poverty. Because of the dreadful
often try to immigrate to the United States or the Dominican
Republic in search of better opportunities.
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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:
Infant mortality is 95 per
1,000 births; life expectancy at birth is only 49 years.
One out of 8 kids will die in
Haiti before the age of 5.
One in three Haitian children
dead last on the International Water Poverty Index.
Less access to clean water and sanitation than residents of
Ethiopia or Sierra Leone.
Third-highest rate of hunger in the world, behind Somalia and
Malnutrition rate is higher than Angola's, and life expectancy
is lower in Haiti than in Sudan.
percentage of Haitians live in poverty than citizens of the
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."
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
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
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
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?"
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.