Haiti in brief

Haiti, a tiny island positioned in the Caribbean Sea is one of the world’s poorest countries, ranking 149 out of 182 countries. The island known as Hispaniola when it was discovered in 1492 by Columbus, was originally inhabited by Taino Amerindians. Within 25 years, Spanish settlers effectively destroyed this indigenous population. When Spain ceded to the French in 1697 the island was renamed Haiti. The French imported slaves from the continent of Africa to work in their forestry and sugar related industries, making the French colony one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean. In the late 18th Century, the then more than half a million slaves revolted against the colonial administration and after a long struggle Haiti finally gained its independence in 1804 – making it the first black-led republic and first independent Caribbean state. The tiny country is no stranger to political, civil and environmental unrest. After the brutal 29-year rule under ‘Papa Doc’, new hope formed after the 1990 democratic election of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. However, he was soon to be ousted by a military coup. In 1994 a constitutional leadership was returned after sanctions and US military intervention, only to be forced out into exile once again by international military intervention responding to allegations of serious political irregularities and human rights abuses. Currently, Haiti has had an elected leadership since May 2006 under President Rene Preval, and a UN stabilization force (MINUSTAH) since 2004.

Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Some 80% of its population lives below the poverty line with 54% living in abject poverty. Two-thirds of the population is dependent on small-scale subsistence farming which is being hampered by environmental natural disasters and deforestation. Remittances from Haitians living overseas are the primary source of foreign exchange, equaling nearly a quarter of GDP and more than twice the earnings from exports. Haiti’s high inflation, a lack of investment because of political insecurity and limited infrastructure, environmental disasters and a severe trade deficit of US$891 million continues to hamper its development.

Haiti at a glance

Land Mass10,714 square miles
Population Density843.3 per square mile
Capital cityPort-au-Prince (population 1,998,000)
Head of statePresident René Garcia Préval
Head of governmentPrime minister Mich?le Duvivier Pierre-Louis
Population mixAfrican-Caribbean 95%, mixed and European 5%
ReligionCatholic 55%, Protestant 29%, none 10%. About half the population practice voodoo, officially recognized as a religion since 2003
Main languagesFrench, Creole
National iconsWyclef Jean (musician) Fabrice Noel (footballer)
Main industriesSugar refining, flour milling, textiles, cement, light manufacturing
Key crops/livestockCoffee, mangoes, sugarcane, rice, corn, sorghum
Key exportsClothing, oils, cocoa, mangoes, coffee
Unemployment rate66% without formal jobs
Media freedom index73 (out of 173)

Source: www.bbc.co.uk, www.guardian.co.uk, www.cia.gov, www.haiti.org

Selected Basic Indicators – 2007 figures (unless stated)

Under-5 mortality rank47th
Under-5 mortality rate76
Infant mortality rate (under 1)57
Neonatal mortality rate32 (2004)
Maternal Mortality per 100,000680 (WHO/UNICEF)
Annual no. of births270,000
Annual no. of under-5 deaths21,000
GNI per capita (US$), 2007560
Life expectancy at birth61 years
HIV/AIDS rate2.2% (UNAIDS)
Total adult literacy rate (%)62% (2000-7)
Primary school net enrolment/attendance50% (2000-7)
% share of household income – lowest 40%9 (1995-2005)
% share of household income – highest 20%63 (1995-2005)
Doctors per 1,000 head of population0.3

Source: The State of the World’s Children on www.unicef.org, UNAIDS

See http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/stats_popup1.html for glossary of data definitions.