Earthquake Magnifies Haiti's Economic and Health Challenges

Population and Key Indicators: Haiti


2010 Total Population (millions) 9.8
2050 Total Population (millions) 15.7
Population Under Age 15 (%) 37
Population Age 65+ (%) 4
Average Number of Births per Woman 3.5
Life Expectancy at Birth (years) 61
Infant Mortality Rate (deaths under age 1 per 1,000 births) 49

Source: Carl Haub, 2010 World Population Data Sheet (Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2010).

Even before the massive earthquake in January 2010, Haiti’s nearly 10 million people ranked as the poorest in the Western Hemisphere. The earthquake killed an estimated 250,000 people, injured 300,000, and destroyed the homes and businesses of at least 1 million additional people. Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital and largest city, was the epicenter of the earthquake and bore the brunt of the damage. Many of the city’s remaining 2.1 million residents are still without permanent homes, public services, or a source of income.1

The destruction has been devastating for Haiti’s population and economy. Residents of this Caribbean nation had an average annual income of just US$1,108 per capita in 2008. In 2005, an estimated 72 percent survived on less than US$2 per day. This widespread poverty is reflected in poor health and low educational levels. Nearly one-half of the population is classified as undernourished, and 49 of every 1,000 children do not survive until their first birthdays. School is free, but the cost of uniforms, textbooks, and related items prevents many children from attending. Just 65 percent of elementary-age children were enrolled before the earthquake, and although schools have reopened, enrollment is not back to previous levels.2

Haiti has also been grappling with one of the region’s worst HIV/AIDS epidemics. More than 2 percent of adults are infected with HIV, according to survey data.3 The percentage receiving antiretroviral treatment has increased, but remains well below the targeted treatment levels. Experts point to low educational levels and widespread poverty as barriers to reducing HIV transmission.

High HIV prevalence and infant mortality, widespread malnutrition, and a lack of clean water are among the health problems that have stymied improvement in Haiti’s life expectancy. Life expectancy at birth is 62 years for Haitian women and just 58 years for Haitian men—lower than in any other country in Latin America and the Caribbean and more than 10 years below the regional average.

Poverty and high birth rates often go hand-in-hand, and Haiti has by far the highest fertility in the Caribbean: 3.5 lifetime births per woman in 2010. A demographic and health survey in 2005-2006 found that the poorest women—those in the lowest wealth quintile—had 6.5 children, on average. Women with no formal education had an average of 5.8 children.

While fertility has fallen—it was an estimated 4.8 children per woman in 1994-1995—it has not seen the rapid decline experienced in neighboring countries. In all of Latin America, only a handful of countries—including Bolivia, Guatemala, and Honduras—have fertility near or above that level in 2010.

The 2005-2006 survey found that only about one-fourth of Haitian women of childbearing age use an effective method of family planning, less than one-half the Caribbean average. The rate of contraceptive use has hardly changed since 2000. Women in the poorest households or who have little education are much less likely to use an effective method, even though many say they would like to avoid pregnancy. In 2005-2006, about 20 percent of women who were not using family planning said they would like to prevent another pregnancy and 17 percent said they would like to delay a pregnancy for at least two years.4

Many Haitians have emigrated in search of better opportunities in other countries. Typically, more-educated Haitians emigrate, leaving less-educated Haitians in the workforce at home. An estimated one of every eight Haitians live abroad, and the remittances they send home are an important source of income for their families. There is a long-standing flow of Haitians into the Dominican Republic, which shares a land border with Haiti on the island of Hispaniola. Between 700,000 and 1 million Haitians live in the Dominican Republic, many filling low-skilled jobs in sugar cane production.5 Outside the Caribbean, there are thriving Haitian communities in the United States, Canada, and France.

Some analysts maintain that the earthquake interrupted and possibly ended promising economic development initiatives that were just beginning to bear fruit. Others see hope in the resilience of the Haitian people and an opportunity to rebuild Port-au-Prince and surrounding areas to be safer, healthier, and more efficient. For the time being, thousands of Haitians lack adequate food, sanitation, and shelter despite massive international assistance pledged to the country after January 2010. Just a fraction of the US$5.3 billion promised has arrived, and reconstruction projects have been stymied by inefficiency and the damaged infrastructure. One-sixth of the government’s personnel died in the earthquake and virtually all official buildings were damaged.6 With little tax revenue and uncertain delivery of promised aid, the government faces the daunting challenge of providing basic necessities as it attempts to mend its economic system and to preserve hope for a better future.


  1. U.S. Department of State, “Country Background Notes: Haiti,” accessed at, on Sept. 21, 2010; and UN Population Division, “World Urbanization Prospects: The 2009 Revision, online data,” accessed at, on Sept. 21, 201
  2. U.S. Department of State, “Country Background Notes: Haiti.”
  3. UNAIDS, 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic, accessed at, on Sept. 22, 2010.
  4. Michel Cayemittes et al., Enquête Mortalité, Morbidité et Utilisation des Services EMMUS-IV: Haïti 2005-2006 (Calverton, MD: Ministère de la Santé Publique et de la Population, Insititut Haïtian de l’Enfance et Macro International, Inc., 2007).
  5. James Ferguson, Migration in the Caribbean: Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Beyond (London: Minority Rights International, 2003), accessed at, on Sept. 16, 2010.
  6. “Haiti’s Earthquake: Frustration Sets In,” The Economist (July 29, 2010), accessed at, on Sept. 28, 2010.