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 km 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.
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. Île de la Gonâve, Île de la Tortue, and Île 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 sq km, 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, has been the president of Haiti since May, 2006.
On October 21, 2010, an outbreak of epidemic cholera was confirmed in Haiti, by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Cholera had not been documented in Haiti for decades. This outbreak is of particular concern given the current conditions in Haiti, including poor water and sanitation, a strained public health infrastructure, and large numbers of people displaced by the massive magnitude 7.0 earthquake in January, 2010 and more recent flooding. Cholera is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhea and dehydration.
CIA World Factbook;U.S. State Dept. Background Notes; LC Country Studies; U.S. CDC, 10/2010; 07/2010; 06/2005; 10/2010
This map has also been used:
- Haiti, January-March 2010