BACKGROUND: Haiti - the blighted country of the Caribbean
Jan 13, 2010, 11:20 GMT
Berlin - The Caribbean republic of Haiti suffers from the highest poverty levels in the Western hemisphere. Ongoing political and economic instability has turned the once rich French colony into a poorhouse.
About 80 per cent of the more than nine million people live a marginal existence and make do with less than two US dollars per day. They cannot afford even staple foods. Child mortality levels are high. Poverty and violence have prompted millions of Haitians to emigrate.
Despite international aid the country's economy is wrecked. About 80 per cent of all public investments and about 40 per cent of the state budget are financed by foreign money.
Due to rising crime levels, tourism - a major source of income in neighbouring Dominican Republic - brings hardly any money to the beleaguered country.
Haiti, the first Latin American country to receive independence in 1804, covers only 28,000 square kilometres. About 1.2 million people live in the capital city Port-au-Prince. Most Haitians have African origins and are Catholic, although voodoo cults also continue to be practiced.
When Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former priest to the poor, was elected president in 1990 after 30 years of dictatorship by the Duvalier family and the military, the country at first appeared to be looking towards a better future.
However, economic and political progress stayed off. Aristide's government was accused of corruption and abuse of power, and he was ultimately driven out of the country following violent clashes in 2004.
UN peacekeepers have been deployed to the country since 2004 in a bid to restore security and order.
Haiti also continues to be hit by natural disasters, including storms, floods and hurricanes. The impact of such events is especially disastrous as almost all of the country's forests have been cut down to be used for fuel.