Haiti is a Caribbean country that occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. While previously a French colony, Haiti declared its independence in 1804 as the first black republic. The country of Haiti is slightly smaller than the state of Maryland with a population of approximately 9.5 million people. Haiti was once one of the weathiest colonies in the Caribbean, largely based on its forestry and sugar-related industries. Due to deforestation, erosion, political unrest and natural disasters, Haiti is currently the poorest country in the Western Hemisphrere, with approximately 80% of the population living under the poverty line and more than 50% of them living in extreme poverty.
On January 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Port-au-Prince, Haiti. 300,000 were killed and an additional one million were displaced as a result of the earthquake.
Prior to the earthquake, Haiti was the poorest country in the Americas, with more than half of its citizens living on less than one U.S. dollar per day. The earthquake exacerbated this desperate situation.
Thousands were driven from their homes and forced to live in tents located in fields and on sidewalks. Many of these families continue to live without clean water, proper sanitation, or adequate nutrition.
Food insecurity and hunger are chronic issues in Haiti, which is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and the second most densely populated. Rapid population growth and periods of economic decline linked mainly to political and social turmoil are only some of the factors that have led to dramatic poverty for most of Haiti’s people. The socio-economic indicators of the UN Human Development Index for 2007/2008 ranked Haiti 146th among 177 countries.
Although agriculture is an important sector in the overall economy, Haiti does not produce enough food crops and livestock to feed its people. The country has to import 60 per cent of the food it needs, including as much as 80 per cent of the rice it consumes.
There is a dramatically large gap between rich and poor, and inequality is likely to increase as the income gap widens even further. The poorest 40 per cent of the population have access to less than 6 per cent of the country’s income, and the richest 2 per cent of Haiti’s people control 26 per cent of national wealth. Haiti’s poorest people depend mainly on self-employment and remittances for their income, while poor people who are relatively better off derive their income mainly from wage earnings and remittances. Remittances are crucial for the survival of broad sectors of the population.
The overall incidence of poverty in the country is 77 per cent. But in rural areas, which are home to 52 per cent of Haiti’s population, 88 per cent of people are poor and 67 per cent are extremely poor. Rural people have a per capita income that is about one third of the income of people living in urban areas. And a large segment of the rural population has extremely limited access to basic services, Only 10 per cent have access to electricity and less than 8 per cent have access to drinking water.
The principal activities in rural areas are agriculture and commerce, which together employ more than 85 per cent of the economically active rural population. Farmers generally rely on multiple activities for household income.
Only one in every five farmers depends for a livelihood solely on raising crops and/or livestock on his or her own farm. Other income-generating activities include wage labour, extraction (of sand, chalk or charcoal), crafts and small-scale trade. For rural people in general, remittances account for an average of 15 per cent of income, off-farm work accounts for 5 per cent, wage labour for about 5 per cent and other activities for about 17 per cent.
The country is vulnerable to hurricanes, flooding and other climate-related disasters. In 2008 climatic disasters caused losses and damage worth US$200 million to the agricultural sector and resulted in food insecurity that affects an estimated 3 million people, one third of the population. In the wake of the disasters, both urban and rural poverty rates have risen. The issue of climate change presents crucial challenges for Haiti’s development.
Haiti is the poorest nation in the Americas with 54% of its population living on less than $1.00 per day and 80% living below the poverty line. The country’s GDP per capita (PPP) is $1,200, ranked 207th in the world. The unemployment rate is 40.6%. The labor force is composed of 38% agriculture, 12% industry, and 50% services.
The estimated 2012 population is 9,801,664 people. The median age is 21. Life expectancy is 61 years for men and 64 years for women. The official languages of Haiti are French and Creole. The adult literacy rate is 53%.
Half of children do not attend primary school. This lack of education has led to an adult population with a literacy rate of only 53%. Only one in five attend secondary school.
The infant mortality rate is Haiti 52 deaths per 1,000 live births. 1.9% of Haitians are infected with HIV/AIDS, resulting in 7,100 deaths per year. 37% of the population does not have access to clean drinking water. 83% do not have adequate sanitation facilities.