Haiti occupies the western one-third of the second largest Caribbean island, Hispaniola, and borders the Dominican Republic. The island lies between the Caribbean Sea and the North Atlantic Ocean. Christopher Columbus landed there in 1492 and the island was the site of the first Spanish colony in the Americas. The indigenous population, called the Taino, were wiped out from genocide and disease within decades of the explorer’s arrival.
Haiti became a prosperous French colony in 1697. The island nation became the first independent black-led republic following a revolt by the black slave population. Haiti, the second oldest non-native country in the Americas (after the United States), declared its independence on January 1, 1804.
The leader of the Haitian army that defeated the French, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, declared himself emperor of Haiti. He was assassinated less than two years later and the country became divided by rival regimes in the north and south until the suicide of Haiti’s self-proclaimed King Henri Chrisophe reunited the country in 1820.
The following century saw almost two dozen leaders come and go leaving the country in a constant state of political turbulence and oppression. This has resulted in Haiti being the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Haiti is ranked number 161 of 187 countries on the 2012 UN Human Development Index.
Although off to a promising start, many decades of poverty, environmental degradation, violence, and political instability has made Haiti the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.
Facts about Haiti
Haiti is a beautiful, colourful, interesting and hopeful country, as are its resilient people. Haiti's seven mountain ranges are squeezed into a land mass about the size of the U.S. state of Maryland or the Canadian province of Nova Scotia.
It is situated 77 km southeast of Cuba and has 1530 km of coast line. Mountainous between the Atlantic Ocean in the North and the Caribbean Sea in the South, Haiti also comprises several islands surrounding the main territory: La Gonâve, la Tortue, l'Ile-à-Vache, la Navase.
- Population: approx 10 million
- Geography: an island country, almost 80% mountainous
- Climate: tropical, average temperature between 25° C and 30° C at sea level; 15° C and 20° C in the mountains
- Average rainfall: 1,400 mm Rainy season - between November/March (North), and between May/October (South)
- Religions: approx. 80% Catholic, 16% Protestant, Voodoo is widely practiced
- Official languages: French, Creole
- Major industries: sugarcane, flour, textiles, cement, light assembly
- Currency: 40 gourdes = $1 US approx.
- Major city: Port-au-Prince, the capital, approx. 1.5 million pop.
- Time zone: GMT –5
- Electricity: 110 volts
- Life expectancy at birth 60 years (men), 63 years (women)
- Infant mortality 76/1,000 live births
- Child malnutrition 17% of children under 5
- Access to an improved water source 54% of population