(January 2004) Two hundred years after vanquishing Napoleon’s troops and securing independence from France, Haiti remains a troubled country. With decades of political violence, persistent poverty, and poor health conditions, the world’s first black-led republic is better known as a country in crisis than one with a rich political and cultural history.

A mountainous nation that shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic, Haiti has long been labeled the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country, one that is characterized by wide disparity in wealth between the poor black majority and the well-to-do mulattoes. Poverty is most acute in the countryside. In the rural areas, where nearly two-thirds of the country’s 7.5 million people live, 80 percent survive on less than US$1 per day, according to the Inter-American Development Bank.1

The ongoing political disorder in the country offers little hope that conditions will improve soon. Any optimism that followed the fall of the brutal Duvalier dynasty has long gone. Some 17 years and a host of constitutional crises later, governance in Haiti remains unstable, with the country’s infrastructure in tatters, a flawed judicial system and police force holding sway, and questions of legitimacy plaguing the once-popular presidency of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Unhappy with the situation and with charges of electoral irregularities, some donors have withheld economic assistance to Haiti.

Health and other social indicators reflect the political instability and economic deprivation in this country, where efforts to commemorate the 200th anniversary of independence January 1 ended in renewed violence. Life expectancy is a mere 51 years, compared with 79 years in Costa Rica and 69 years in Nicaragua, Central America’s poorest country, notes the Population Reference Bureau.2

The country’s high mortality is the result of generalized poverty and the HIV/AIDS epidemic.3 UN agencies estimate that 30,000 adults and children died of AIDS in 2001 in Haiti, where adult prevalence is more than 6 percent.4 Children under the age of 15 who have lost at least one parent to AIDS number an estimated 200,000.

Haiti’s children are particularly vulnerable to the country’s poor conditions. Malnutrition, diarrheal diseases, as well as pneumonia and other acute respiratory infections are the leading causes of child deaths, says the Pan American Health Organization.5 The rate of infant deaths is by far the region’s highest, with an estimated 80 infants under the age of one dying yearly for every 1,000 live births, compared with 31 in the Dominican Republic and 6 in cash-strapped Cuba, another of Haiti’s closest neighbors.6

Education has also suffered. More than half the country’s adult women cannot read or write, compared with 9 percent in Jamaica, 3 percent in Cuba, and 2 percent in Uruguay.7 The vast majority of the country’s schools — some 80 percent — are private, with public spending on education, which totals only 2.5 percent of the gross domestic product, concentrated in urban areas.8


Indicator Data
Population Mid-2003 7,500,000
Population 2025 (projected) 11,100,000
Population 2050 (projected) 15,100,000
Infant Mortality Rate (infant deaths per 1,000 live births) 80
Total Fertility Rate (average number of children born to a woman during her lifetime) 4.7
Population Under Age 15 (%) 40
Population Over Age 65 (%) 4
Life Expectancy at Birth, Both Sexes (years) 51
Life Expectancy at Birth, Males (years) 50
Life Expectancy at Birth, Females (years) 52
Urban Population (%) 36
Population Ages 15-49 With HIV/AIDS at End of 2001 (%) 6.1
Contraceptive Use Among Married Women 15-49, All Methods (%) 28
Contraceptive Use Among Married Women 15-49, Modern Methods (%) 22
Government View of Birth Rate too high
Births Attended by Skilled Personnel (%) 24
Maternal Deaths per 100,000 Live Births 1,100
GNI PPP Per Capita, 2001 (US$) $1,870

Sources: Carl Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: PRB, 2003); and Justine Sass and Lori Ashford, Women of Our World 2002 (Washington, DC: PRB, 2002). All these data can be found in PRB’s DataFinder.

Yvette Collymore is a senior editor at PRB.


  1. Inter-American Development Bank, “Haiti: Local Development Program Loan Proposal,” accessed online at www.iadb.org/exr/ENGLISH/
    PROJECTS/ha1491e.pdf, on Jan. 6, 2004.
  2. Carl Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2003).
  3. Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), “Country Profiles: Haiti,” accessed online at www.paho.org/English/DD/AIS/cp_332.htm, on Jan. 9, 2004.
  4. Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), UNICEF, and WHO, “Epidemiological Fact Sheets by Country,” accessed online at www.who.int/emc-hiv/fact_sheets/pdfs/haiti_en.pdf, on Jan. 9, 2004.
  5. PAHO, “Country Profiles: Haiti.”
  6. Haub, 2003 World Population Data Sheet.
  7. United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), The State of World Population 2003 (New York: UNFPA, 2003).
  8. PAHO, “Country Profiles: Haiti.”