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Haitiís economy has been shrinking since the early 1980s while the population has continued to grow. In 2006 Haitiís per capita gross domestic product was $526.70. This placed Haiti among the worldís poorest nations. Agriculture employs 51 percent of the labor force; manufacturing, services, and tourism are the next largest employers. Formal unemployment affects about 50 percent of the labor force. It is estimated that either unemployment or underemployment affects about 85 percent of the labor force. The international sanctions employed against Haitiís military leaders from 1991 to 1994 further weakened the already crippled economy. Ongoing political instability has dampened hopes for economic improvement.
Many Haitians have left their country to seek better opportunities elsewhere. Educated Haitians, unable to use their skills and unwilling to endure the dictatorial rule of the Duvalier family, emigrated in increasing numbers from the 1970s on. Poorer Haitians, seeking work or fleeing political persecution, also emigrated, largely illegally, to other Caribbean islands and to the United States. Money sent back to family members in Haiti by Haitians living abroad contributes to the nationís income.
Government revenue in 2000 was $290 million and spending was about $385 million. Haiti depends heavily on foreign aid, including food relief from international organizations. However, the food and other assistance frequently fails to reach its intended recipients. Haitiís international debt is more than $1 billion.
Most of Haitiís farmers work small plots of land on which they raise food for their families. Any excess is sold at markets. The land is overworked and overcrowded, and soil erosion is a major agricultural problem. Hurricanes, flooding, and drought also take their toll on crops.
Coffee, cacao, and mangoes are the major crops grown in Haiti for export. Sugarcane long ranked second to coffee among commercial crops, but competition and falling sugar prices forced Haitiís sugar refineries to close in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Haiti also grows vetiver, a grass that yields oils used in the manufacture of perfume. The main crops grown for food are corn, cassava, sweet potatoes, beans, rice, and plantains. Chickens are the most common livestock, but cattle, goats, and pigs are also raised.
Forestry, Fishing, and Mining
Only 3.8 percent of Haiti remains forested, and forest products are of little value to the economy. Some pine logs are harvested from mountaintops. A lack of modern equipment hinders the fishing industry. Catches of reef fish and crustaceans supply local markets. Experts from Cuba have been helping Haiti develop its fishing industry.
Mining has never been an important industry in Haiti. Copper mining ceased during the 1970s because of low world prices. Bauxite mining stopped in the early 1980s.
Haitiís poverty has meant that manufacturing was long limited primarily to processing food products, such as coffee, sugar, flour, and beverages, for local use. Factories also produce cement, shoes, and textiles. Foreign-owned plants in Haiti assemble electronic goods for export and produce sports equipment and clothing. Further industrialization in Haiti has been obstructed by an uncertain electrical supply, waste disposal problems, limited transportation, a lack of capital and skilled labor, and government policies.
The petite industrie, or handicraft industry, is an important source of income for many Haitians. Houses in the shantytowns around Port-au-Prince double as shops where artisans carve wood, weave cloth, or make a variety of other handicrafts to sell to tourists.
The rate of energy consumption in Haiti is among the lowest in the world. Other than private generators, the Peligre hydroelectric plant on the Artibonite River is the only local source of commercial energy. In 2003 Haiti produced 546 million kilowatt-hours, mostly by burning imported fossil fuels. Poor Haitians burn charcoal to supply heat at home.
Currency, Banking, and Trade
The gourde, consisting of 100 centimes, is the basic unit of currency in Haiti (40.40 gourdes equal U.S.$1; 2006 average). United States currency is recognized as legal tender. The national Bank of Haiti is government-owned and performs commercial and central bank functions. French, U.S., and Canadian banks operate on a small scale.
In the early 2000s Haitiís major exports were coffee and assembled manufactured goods, such as electronics and clothing. The countryís chief imports were machinery and manufactured goods, food and beverages, fuel, and chemicals. The United States was Haitiís primary trading partner. In 2000 exports were valued at $164 million and imports at $1.04 billion.
Haiti is a member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS), a free-trade organization, and the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM), an organization that promotes regional unity and coordinates economic and foreign policy among Caribbean nations.
Haitiís road network was built by U.S. Marines during the U.S. occupation of Haiti from 1915 to 1934. Of the 4,160 km (2,585 mi) of roads, only 24 percent are paved. Even main roads are in poor condition, and many bridges have become unusable. The country has one international airport in Port-au-Prince and nearly a dozen smaller airstrips throughout the nation. Domestic air service is provided by a government-owned airline.
Most of Haitiís communications network is clustered in Port-au-Prince. International communications tend to be better than domestic. In 2000 there were 6 television sets and in 199753 radios in use for every 1,000 residents. Haiti had 17 telephone mainlines per 1,000 people in 2004. There were 2 daily newspapers in 2004, with an average circulation of about 20,000, or about 3 papers per 1,000 inhabitants. Most of the newspapers and broadcast stations are in Port-au-Prince, and these cater to the capitalís wealthier inhabitants.
Tourism has been an important source of revenue for Haiti in the past. In the mid-1980s stories about AIDS on the island scared away many potential tourists. In the 1990s and early 2000s Haitiís unstable political scene deterred travelers from visiting the island. Yet tourist attractions abound, from the countryís beautiful beaches to its vibrant culture and colorful towns and cities. In 2005, some 112,000 tourists visited Haiti.
The labor force consists of 4.1 million mostly unskilled workers. Women outnumber men as factory workers. A few labor unions exist, but poverty and years of dictatorship have prevented labor groups from organizing, although they are legal. Industrial wages of less than $2 per day are the lowest in the Caribbean.
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