Haiti occupies the western third of the island of Hispaniola, situated between Cuba and Puerto Rico, which it shares with the Dominican Republic. The Atlantic Ocean borders Haiti’s northern shores, while the Caribbean Sea is to the west and south. The Windward Passage separates Haiti from Cuba, which lies about 80 kilometers to the northwest. Haiti has an area of 27,750 sq. km. (10,714 sq. mi.), slightly smaller than Maryland. Because of its horseshoe shape, Haiti has a disproportionately long coastline. In all, Haiti’s coastline stretches 1,771 km. (1,100 mi.), with prominent peninsulas in both the north and the south. Its capital and largest city is Port-au-Prince, on the country's southwestern coast.
Haiti occupies the mountainous portion of the island of Hispaniola. Five mountain ranges dominate Haiti’s landscape and divide the country into three regions : northern, central, and southern. The terrain is comprised of rugged mountains with small coastal plains and river valleys, and a large east-central elevated plateau. The highest peak, the Morne de la Selle, is located in the south and reaches an altitude of 2,715 meters. There are no navigable rivers in Haiti. The largest lake is Etang Saumâtre, a salt-water body located in the southern region. Ile de la Gonave, Ile de la Tortue, and Ile a Vaches comprise Haiti's principal offshore territories. The country’s climate is warm and semiarid, with high humidity in many coastal areas.
Although Haiti averages about 325 people per square kilometer, its population is concentrated most heavily in urban areas, coastal plains, and valleys. About 95% of Haitians are of African descent. The rest of the population is mostly of mixed Caucasian-African ancestry. French is one of two official languages, but it is spoken fluently by only about 10% of the people. All Haitians speak Creole, the country's other official language. English and Spanish are increasingly used as second languages among the young and in the business sector.
The dominant religion is Roman Catholicism. Increasing numbers of Haitians have converted to Protestantism through the work of missionaries active throughout the country. Much of the population also practices voudou (voodoo), recognized by the government as a religion in April 2003. Haitians tend to see no conflict in these African-rooted beliefs coexisting with Christian faith.
Haiti gained independence from France on January 1, 1804. Haiti was the first modern state governed by people of African descent and the second nation in the Western Hemisphere to achieve independence. René Préval, a Belgian-educated agronomist, was elected president of Haiti in 2006.
Large-scale emigration, principally to the U.S.--but also to Canada, the Dominican Republic, The Bahamas and other Caribbean neighbors, and France--has created what Haitians refer to as the Eleventh Department or the Diaspora. About one of every eight Haitians lives abroad.
Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere with 80% of the population living under the poverty line and 54% in abject poverty. Two-thirds of all Haitians depend on the agricultural sector, mainly small-scale subsistence farming, and remain vulnerable to damage from frequent natural disasters, exacerbated by the country's widespread deforestation. While the economy has recovered in recent years, registering positive growth since 2005, four tropical storms in 2008 severely damaged the transportation infrastructure and agricultural sector.
On January 12, 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck the capital of Port-au-Prince, the nation's worst earthquake in more than 200 years. Additional information (maps and imagery) can be found from the following resources:
CIA World Factbook;U.S. State Dept. Background Notes; LC Country Studies, 11/2009; 09/2009; 05/2006
This map has also been used:
- Haiti, February 2004