Haiti has long been considered the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Today, the vast majority of Haitians live at the lowest economic level and many suffer from a lack of food and medical care.
An estimated 80 percent of Haitians live under the poverty line and 54 percent live in abject poverty. More than half of the population, including two-thirds of the children, suffers from malnutrition. About 117 of every 1,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday. Haiti’s mortality rate is about 13 people per 1,000; its birth rate is more than double that, at about 36 people per 1,000.
Life expectancy is 51 years for men and 54 years for women. Nearly a quarter of the country’s rural families have no land at all, and Haiti must import nearly a quarter of its overall food supplies. Lack of usable water has become a major problem. Clean water for drinking, cooking and bathing is in short supply, so the instance of waterborne diseases, such as diarrhea, is high. Schools are clustered in cities, so children who live in remote areas do not receive even a basic education. Haiti’s literacy rate is about 53 percent.
In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola, and in 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, which later became Haiti. The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean, but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. In the late 18th century, Haiti's nearly half million slaves revolted under Toussaint L'Ouverture. After a prolonged struggle, Haiti became the first black republic to declare its independence in 1804.
The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history. After an armed rebellion led to the forced resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, an interim government took office to organize new elections under the auspices of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Continued violence and technical delays prompted repeated postponements, but Haiti finally did inaugurate a democratically elected president and parliament in May of 2006.
On Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude 7.0 rocked the Caribbean nation at 4:53 P.M. According to the US Geological Survey, the epicenter was about 15 miles WSW of Port-au-Prince. More than 250,000 were reportedly killed, and more than 1.3 million were left homeless at the time. As Haiti struggles to recover, thousands have been relocated to permanent and temporary housing, but thousands more remain in tent cities.
An outbreak of cholera was confirmed in Haiti on October 21, 2010, according the Center of Disease Control and Prevention. According to published reports, the disease may have originated at a United Nations military camp north of the capital, which spilled raw sewage into a tributary of the Artibonite River. As of June 2011, cholera has sicken nearly 300,000 and killed more than 5,000 people since the start of the outbreak.
Michel Martelly, 50, is the President of Haiti following his victory in the presidential election of 2011. On April 4, a senior Haitian official announced that Martelly had won the second round of the election against candidate Mirlande Manigat, 70, a college professor and former first lady. Before entering the political scene, Martelly was a performing and recording artist, composer and businessman.