Haiti: Past, Present And Future

January 12, 2010, the world gasped yet again with the news of a 7.0 earthquake shattering Haiti. But this nation is no stranger to destruction or rebuilding its land. Since gaining independence in the early 19th century, Haiti has experienced a gamut of successes and disappointments.

Map of Haiti

FROM SLAVES TO FREE

Haiti has had a tumultuous history, plagued by domestic and international conflict, political violence, plenary dissention and uncontrollable acts of God, resulting in less than desirable living circumstances.

After Spain surrendered Haiti to the French in 1697, the country thrived on forest and sugar-related enterprises, encountering vast wealth. However, the work was operated through major slave importation, which ultimately led to the country's demise. Independence was declared in 1804 after a feat of slave rebellion, and a constitution resembling that of the US and France was established in 1987. Haiti's official language is French; it is one of only two countries in the Americas to claim this tongue.

Already somewhat of a stepchild to its neighboring Caribbean countries, Haiti became the first independent Latin American country and the first black-led republic in the world. Although officially supporting a republic government, Haiti continues to rank high on the Corruption Perceptions Index, evidenced by tainted electoral outcomes and corrupt public figures.

For decades inhumane dictators, hurricanes, earthquakes, tropical storms, tsunamis and immense devastation have been the fate of Haiti -– the poorest of Western Hemisphere countries -– including the bloody coup of the popular vote, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide, in 2004. Since Parliament dismissed President Rene Preval in 2008, the country has remained without a functional government, exacerbating the food shortages, violence and instability while rapidly decreasing the standard of living.

PROFUSE POVERTY

Drug trafficking and rival gang violence add to the havoc Haitians live with on a daily basis. According to the CIA World Factbook, 80% of those residing in Haiti live under the poverty line with 54% in abject poverty. The vast majority, two-thirds, of the population's work is in agriculture, which is why natural disasters have a dire impact on the vitality of the country.

Two-thirds of the population does not have a formal occupation, and according to the BBC Network, the country's upper class, the French-speaking minority which accounts for 1% of the country, owns as much as half the country's wealth, while the socially lesser Creole-speaking black majority remain in teeming poverty. This dichotomy causes societal unbalance.

CHRONIC TIMELINE

Haiti has experienced umpteen natural disasters: a storm killing 2,000 people in 1935, an almost equally morbid tsunami in 1946, Hurricane Flora in 1963, a flood killing 2,600 in 2004, mudslides and floods in 2007, and three hurricanes and a tropical storm in 2008. Most recently, a 7.0-magnitutde earthquake took more than 150,000 lives, the region's worst in 200 years. The New York Times reports that 250,000 people are homeless, and 200,000 residents have moved to the capital city's outlying areas.

CONTENTIOUS BURIAL RITUALS

Many bodies remain unaccounted for, elevating the world's concern with the country's burial and documentation procedures. Dishonorable displays of removing and disposing of the tens of thousands of dead bodies has raised questions with pictures of tractors scooping them up and piling them in large holes. Some government officials have admitted to not counting the bodies amid removal.

The even greater concern stems from Haitians' deep devotion to having proper burial services with some investing more in their post-life residences than their current homes. The government's disregard for proper funeral ceremonies is a point of contention, but Haitians hold to the nation's customary voodoo belief that the dead continue living and a connection with those family members who have passed away remains through spirit.

REBUILD OR BUST

It will take years for Haiti to regain what has been lost, as so many times before. To ease the devastation, strangers from around the world have come alongside the Haitians to help with the restoration of their tiny shared island. Continuous help is needed as Haiti continues to find hope in an unfortunate context.

For more on helping and giving on SheKnows:

Haiti earthquake: How to help
Women's oppression in Afghanistan
Mother's Day Everyday campaign: Fighting maternal & newborn deaths

Tags: natural disasters

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