The massive earthquake that devastated Haiti on January 12, 2010 was the worst quake to hit the region in 200 years.  The disastrous event cost more than 250,000 lives and an estimated $7.2 to $13.2 billion.  Much of the country’s capital, Port-au-Prince, was destroyed as hordes of Haiti’s people were trapped in the ruins of shantytowns, government buildings, and foreign aid offices.  The quake killed 17 percent of the government’s workforce and destroyed all but one government ministry building.  More than 1.5 million Haitians were displaced from their homes or left homeless.  Find links to help at the end of the article.

Haiti Earthquake Map

The map on the right shows the range of intensities felt by people across Haiti during the the massive 2010 earthquake.  (Click on the image to view the full-size map in a separate browser window or tab.)

Target for Natural Disasters

As a tropical island nation, Haiti faces an annual hurricane season that brings the potential for considerable physical damage and human costs.  Rampant deforestation that has taken as much as 98 percent of Haiti’s forest cover magnifies the impact of hurricane winds and flood waters.  Haiti experienced one of its worst hurricane seasons ever in 2008 when four tropical storms – Fay, Gustav, Hanna, and Ike – caused more than $1 billion in damage.

As if earthquakes and hurricanes were not enough, October saw the first cholera outbreak in Haiti in 50 years.  Hurricane Tomas raised the spectre of spreading the disease to the densely populated capital.  The especially tenuous living and health conditions brought on by the January quake threaten to facilitate the transmission of the disease and make the country even more vulnerable to future health epidemics.

Sobering Human Development Profile

By most any measure, Haiti is one of the world’s poorest and least developed countries.

  • Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.  Its GDP was estimated at just over $6.5 billion in 2009.  With a population of 9.65 million people, that translates to a GDP per capita of only about $1,300 (at Purchasing Power Parity (PPP)).  Eighty percent of Haiti’s population struggles to survive while living below the poverty line.
  • Life expectancy at birth in Haiti is just 61.7 years.  By comparison, life expectancies for Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Mexico range from 72.6 to 79.1 years.
  • Haiti ranks 145 out of 169 countries in the latest 2010 UNDP Human Development Index (HDI).  HDI scores for Honduras, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, and Mexico range from .604 to .750.  Haiti’s overall HDI score of .404 is less than half that of the top 35 countries in the index.
  • 57 percent of Haiti’s population lives in “multidimensional poverty,” meaning these people face constant, acute shortcomings in their health, education, and living standards, according to the latest 2010 UNDP Human Development Report (HDR).

How to Help

To serve Haiti’s immediate recovery and longer-term development and resiliency efforts, Haiti desperately needs outside support from more fortunate friends and neighbors.  The Interim Haiti Recovery Commission, co-chaired by former President Clinton and Haitian Prime Minister Jean-Max Bellerive, was established to raise reconstruction funds and rebuild Haiti in the wake of the January earthquake.

Fortunately, there is evidence that assistance efforts can make a difference.  Nearly 90 percent of cholera cases have been successfully treated when Haitians have been able to reach clinics and get access to health services.

To learn more about helping Haiti and ways to donate money or time, contact these organizations: Red Cross, Doctors without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres), UNICEF, and the World Food ProgrammeCharity Navigator provides more information about these and other organizations and their efforts to contribute to rebuilding Haiti in the wake of the January earthquake.

Related articles and content:

Country profiles and topic pages: Haiti, Belize, Brazil, Development, Sustainability, Globalization, World Rankings

Latin America Combats Poverty and Inequality

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