Updated April 13, 2010
One of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, Haiti in recent years has struggled with problems ranging from near-constant political upheaval, health crises, severe environmental degradation and an annual barrage of hurricanes.
On Jan. 12, 2010, a devastating earthquake struck Haiti, reducing much of its capital to rubble. It was the worst earthquake in the region in more than 200 years. A study by the Inter-American Development Bank estimates that the cost could be between $7.2 billion to $13.2 billion, based on a death toll from 200,000 to 250,000. The toll has been since been revised by Haiti's president at upwards of 300,000.
Huge swaths of the capital, Port-au-Prince, lay in ruins, and thousands of people were trapped in the rubble of government buildings, foreign aid offices and shantytowns. Schools, hospitals and a prison collapsed. Thousands of new amputees are facing the stark reality of living with disabilities in a shattered country whose terrain and culture have never been hospitable to the disabled.
Political Instability and Natural Disasters
Since 2008, the situation has worsened dramatically, with the nation staggering beneath the double whammy of food riots, government instability and a series of hurricanes that killed hundreds and battered the economy.
Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna and Ike and Tropical Storm Fay landed within the space of a month in August and September 2008. Nationally, damages came to a total of $900 million, or nearly 15 percent of the gross domestic product. The national toll was 800 dead, down from 2004 when 3,000 perished.
With the absence of jobs, many Haitians have sought work in the United States and elsewhere despite the global financial crisis. With some 900,000 youths expected to come into the job market in the next five years, dismal prospects are the main threat to stability.
The January 2010 earthquake left the country and its densely populated Port-au-Prince in ruins, its poorly constructed buildings and shanties destroyed or seriously compromised and the government broken.
More than 3,000 school buildings in the earthquake zone were in shambles; hundreds of teachers and thousands of students were killed. Some schools may never reopen, leaving vast numbers of children languishing in camps or working in menial jobs, struggling to sustain themselves.
In April, Mr. Préval put the death toll at more than 300,000.