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With a yearly per capita income at $817—representing less than $2.25 in earnings a day – the people of Haiti are the poorest in the western hemisphere.

Sadly, even the name Haiti evokes an impression of squalor and instability in recent years. The world is familiar with the major natural disasters (an earthquake and deadly hurricane) it has suffered, and many have heard stories about the nation’s terrible economic woes, civil unrest, and issues with malnutrition and illiteracy. They have seen images of the country’s poorest families living in one-room shacks made of sticks, tin and cardboard, and are aware of the lack of reliable public services, from problems with water safety to the absence of electricity.

But hope is not lost! There is no place on earth so broken God cannot reach it, and no society so torn that our Heavenly Father cannot heal it. With your generous help, Haiti can recover from its challenges to thrive and prosper again.

To understand Haiti’s key issues, explore its history and consider the causes of its poverty.

Quick Facts



Yearly income per capita:


Literacy Rate:

60.7% (95.5% in U.S.)

Infant Mortality Rate per 1,000 live births:

48.2 (7.5 in U.S.)

Population Below the Poverty Rate:




(2/3 of the labor force do not have formal jobs)

Income Distribution:

The poor receives 0.7% of wealth

while the richest 10% receives 47.7%)

Quick Facts

Population: 10,981,229

Yearly income per capita: $817

(Poorest country in North America, 3rd poorest in world)

Literacy Rate: 60.7% (95.5% in U.S.)

Income Distribution: The poor receives 0.7% of wealth

(while the richest 10% receives 47.7%)

Infant mortality per 1,000 live births: 48.2 (7.5 in U.S.)

Population below poverty line: 58.5% 

Unemployment: 40.6% (2/3 of the labor force do not have formal jobs)

Sources: The World Bank, CIA Factbook

In Haiti, the poorest families are forced to live in one-room shacks made of sticks, tin and cardboard, with dirt floors and no running water.

An Historical Perspective

What happened after the French left Haiti

Haiti passed from Spanish colonial reign to French rule and finally gained its independence through a successful slave revolt in in 1804. After the French left, there was a scramble for control of Haiti. The result was a continuation of the same agricultural model that had been established in colonial times. It was impossible to return the masses to slavery, but the system resembled medieval serfdom, tying the peasants to plantations owned by elite landowners. Although this system ultimately failed, it contributed to the developing poverty of the people of Haiti.

Throughout the 19th century, former slaves ran away from the plantations, and away from the cruel landowners who would have effectively tried to enslave them again. They ran to the mountains where they would be safe. And here they have, in essence, remained – free, but poor and uneducated.

The 20th century brought three decades of American occupation, multiple corrupt regimes, natural disasters, environmental devastation and HIV to Haiti. By the time U.S occupation ceased in 1934, Haiti was left with a decimated economy and facing a future full of poverty and desperation.

Exploring the Causes of Poverty Today

One of the biggest causes of poverty in Haiti today is government instability. Throughout the past 30 years, Haiti has had 19 different leaders, with 19 different governments. Another consequence of this instability is the lack of government funds due to a lack of paid taxes. This leads to poor or even nonexistent services, such as aid for natural disasters. When these disasters occur, it creates a bigger burden for a country already struggling with few resources.

In 2016, Hurricane Matthew destroyed much of the country’s livestock and crops. The country’s agricultural system is only now starting to rebuild.

"...Throughout the past 30 years, Haiti has had 19 different leaders, with 19 different governments..."

Two recent disasters that have exacerbated Haitian poverty are the 2010 earthquake and 2016’s Hurricane Matthew. 250,000 lost their lives during the 2010 quake. One-third of the buildings in Port-Au-Prince went down. Ten years later, the effects are still being felt. In 2016, Hurricane Matthew destroyed much of the country’s livestock and crops. The country’s agricultural system is only now starting to rebound from that disaster.

But the causes of Haiti’s poverty are varied and extreme. Below are some of the most frequently mentioned.

A Lack of Infrastructure

One of the contributing factors to poverty in Haiti is a lack of infrastructure. Although the situation has improved of late, roads are still inadequate – especially in the rural areas. Shipping goods to the market in Port-au-Prince is expensive. Travel by workers is difficult and time-consuming. During the rainy season, many areas cannot be reached at all by motor vehicles.

Water also presents difficulties for the people. Only the wealthy and middle class have running water. The masses for the most part do not have access to potable water and sanitation is poor. Most people simply make do with outhouses or just use the outdoors. Electricity is not available except for a small percentage of the population. Public schools are, for the most part, in poor condition. Access to health care facilities is centered around population centers. Rural health care facilities are very spotty.

For generations, Haitian governments have insisted that the country is simply too poor to provide such public services. There is some truth to this claim. However, millions of dollars donated by foreign governments and charitable groups for infrastructure projects have been stolen by government officials. This is why, in general, people distrust government programs.

Language as a Barrier

Perhaps the most unique cause of poverty in Haiti is the actual language that is spoken. In essence, the imposition of French on the country has a direct correlation to Haiti’s misery. French is the official language of the country, and all state business is carried on in French. The schools teach French – yet only one in every ten people in Haiti can converse in fluent French. Most of the citizens of Haiti converse in Haitian Creole.

The result of this language barrier is a national literacy rate that is only around 60% – well below the 90% average literacy rate for most Latin American and Caribbean countries. (It should be noted that Haiti’s literacy rate has dramatically improved over the past decade, largely due to the heroic efforts of Haitian educators.)

Soil Erosion

Haiti is a mountainous country. Sadly, for the past 200 years, people have been cutting the trees on the mountains without replanting. Each year, when the rainy season comes, the soil washes down the mountainsides right into the sea. What was once the most fertile farmland in the Caribbean is now barren. This has created a terrible situation for the farmers, who need fertile soil in which to plant.

How did this terrible situation come about? Once again, the problems of illiteracy and lack of education are contributing factors. Haitian woodcutters simply haven’t had the knowledge to understand the extent of damage that deforestation does. To be fair, however, telling poor farmers that they are contributing to Haiti’s misery by cutting down a few trees is not a very convincing argument.

Also, there is little motivation for woodcutters to replant more trees because they do not own the land. They cut here or there as sharecroppers or renters, then move on to other lands. The landowners are often city people or more wealthy village folks who don’t keep a close watch on their lands. It is in the interest of the nation as a whole to replant trees. But who will be the caretaker?

Is Haiti the poorest country in the world?

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere and is listed among the top 20 poorest nations in the world. (It currently ranks as the 19th poorest.)

What is the best hope for Haiti?

The best hope for Haiti is a relief effort based on creating holistic, transformative change. This approach is intended to give Haitians a hand up rather than handouts. Efforts of this kind have proven most effective, in part because they allow poor families to lift themselves out the cycle of poverty. This is an empowering process that builds confidence, encourages self-reliance and restores hope.

Where did the 2010 Haiti earthquake occur?

On January 12, 2010, a magnitude-7.0 earthquake hit Haiti near Léogâne, about 16 miles west of the capital, Port-Au-Prince. With 250,000 lives lost and approximately 3 million people affected, this quake was the most devastating natural disaster ever experienced in the country. Ten years later, the effects are still being felt.

What do the people of Haiti eat?

Haitian cuisine is often lumped together with other regional islands as Caribbean cuisine, however it maintains an independently unique flavor. A typical dish would be a plate of rice with beans topped off with fish, tomatoes and onions. This It is often called the Riz National, considered to be the national rice of Haiti. Black beans are usually the beans of choice, followed by red beans, white beans, and even peas. Chicken is frequently eaten, the same goes for goat meat and beef. Starches commonly eaten include yam, potato and breadfruit. Spaghetti is most often served in Haiti as a breakfast dish and is cooked with hot dog, dried herring and spices and served with tomato sauce.

What is chronic hunger?

Chronic hunger is often contrasted with seasonal hunger. While seasonal hunger is related to cycles of food growing and harvesting, chronic hunger is a consequence of diets being persistently inadequate in terms of quantity or quality.

Why is Haiti suffering?

Factors that make Haiti more vulnerable than other Caribbean nations (the Dominican Republic, for example) are its higher population density, extensive deforestation, extreme soil erosion, and high income-inequality.

What causes poverty in Haiti?

Haiti was once the wealthiest country in the Caribbean as a result of the African slave trade and a key player in the sugar trade. Today, extreme deforestation and the destruction of natural resources for export have left the country a scarred and troubled land. Haiti continues to experience political turmoil and extreme economic challenges. Poverty, corruption, vulnerability to natural disasters, unemployment and persistent illiteracy are among the most serious obstructions to Haiti’s stability and economic growth. Haiti is also plagued with strong voodoo practices, disease, unclean water, malnutrition and poor health care.

What is the poverty line in Haiti?

There is a new baseline of poverty in Haiti, based on consumption. The national poverty rate is 58.6 percent, based on the number of people living on less than $2.41 a day.

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Proceeds from this campaign will be used to cover any expenditures to provide safe and secure housing incurred through June 30, 2020, the close of our ministry’s new fiscal year. In the event that more funds are raised than needed to fully fund the project, the excess funds, if any, will be used to meet the most urgent needs of the ministry.