Haiti, a cursed land
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The earthquake that struck Haiti is the latest blow suffered by the impoverished Caribbean nation. Decades of political instability, violent social upheaval and natural disasters have turned Haiti into one of the world's poorest nations.
Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world, is particularly ill-equipped to handle the 7.0-magnitude earthquake that struck near its capital Port-au-Prince on Tuesday.
Occupying the island of Hispaniola along with the Dominican Republic in the Greater Antillean archipelago, Haiti was ravaged by a series of hurricanes that killed approximately 800 people in 2008. Roads, houses, and farms were destroyed, and the damage was estimated at roughly 15 percent of Haiti’s national wealth. The country was left extremely vulnerable to floods because of widespread deforestation caused by the hurricanes.
Haiti is ranked 146th out of 177 in “human development” by the United Nations Development Programme. Nearly 80 percent of the country’s 9 million inhabitants live below the poverty line (surviving on less than 2 dollars a day) and half of the population lives in extreme poverty (surviving on less than one dollar a day). More than one out of four Haitians is malnourished, and the unemployment rate is near 65 percent.
Lack of security and political stability
In 1990, after about thirty years of dictatorship, the former French colony elected its first president by universal suffrage. That president, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, elicited great hopes that were quickly dashed by a coup d’Etat. Rene Preval, a prominent ally of Aristide, was voted into office in 1995 in elections which received widespread praise. Subsequent elections -including the restoration of Aristide as president in 2000- however, were plagued with allegations of fraud.
In 2004, groups opposed to Aristide seized control of cities throughout Haiti, causing Aristide to flee to South Africa. Preval was elected president once again in 2006.
In 2008, rising oil and food prices hit Haiti particularly hard, provoking violent hunger riots in Port-au-Prince and several other cities. The unrest led the Senate to dismiss Prime Minister Jacques-Edouard Alexis.
Nearly 9,000 workers from the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti -- established in 2004 -- were in the country at the time of the earthquake. Against the backdrop of political instability and a battered economy, their job is to maintain a semblance of an institutional framework.
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