The hits never seem to end for Haiti. First there was the devastating earthquake in 2010, followed by a deadly cholera outbreak, and now the tiny country is reeling after Hurricane Matthew killed hundreds and displaced thousands.
Meanwhile, its neighbor – the Dominican Republic – has weathered similar disasters with vastly different results. How come the two countries fare so differently despite sharing the same island, Hispaniola?
Here are some key disparities between Haiti and Dominican Republic, which contribute to each country’s ability to recover from natural and man-made disasters:
Both countries are at risk for earthquakes and hurricanes. The map below shows what portions of Hispaniola Island lie on earthquake fault lines.
The red shaded area shows earthquake fault lines in Haiti, while the yellow shows earthquake fault lines in the Dominican Republic.
In 2004, Hurricane Jeanne made landfall at the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic. The flooding from Jeanne killed an estimated 3,000 people in Haiti, according to a report from the National Hurricane Center. Meanwhile, only 19 deaths were reported in the Dominican Republic.
Though Hurricane Matthew didn’t hit the Dominican Republic nearly as hard as it did Haiti, only four deaths were reported in DR, versus 300 and climbing across the border. Likewise, the earthquake in 2010 was felt across Hispaniola, but no one outside Haiti died.
Haiti lacks resources to prepare for natural disasters. There are no funds for disaster response or infrastructure improvements in watershed protection or irrigation programs that could help prepare for hurricanes and storms, according to the World Bank.
Widespread deforestation in Haiti also has led to “flooding, dramatic rates of soil erosion.” The depleted tree cover makes the impact of storms and hurricanes worse, USAID notes.
Deforestation began during Haiti’s colonial period, as land was cleared for cash crops like coffee, tobacco and sugar, all farmed through slave labor. In post-colonial years, political and economic problems further exacerbated land issues.
Next door, the Dominican Republic enjoys better farmland and has more greenery. A NASA satellite image of the Haiti-Dominican Republic border from 2002 shows the marked difference in the two countries’ landscapes.
Haiti is on the left and the Dominican Republic on the right.
Hispaniola has long been a divided island.
It was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and settled by the Spanish. In 1697, Spain gave the portion of the island now known as Haiti to the French.
The colony would become one of the wealthiest in the world, thanks largely to an agriculture-based economy and large amounts of African slaves.
The slaves eventually revolted and Haiti became the first post-colonial, black-led nation in the world when it declared independence in 1804. The other side of the island, then known as Santo Domingo, was actually ruled by Haiti for 22 years. The Dominican Republic was formed in 1844.
The country bounced back and forth between Spanish rule and independence until ultimately declaring independence for the last time in 1865.
Back in 1960 the two countries had the same GDP per capita, according to the World Bank. Now the Dominican Republic’s GDP per capita is about seven times that of Haiti, which remains the poorest country in the western hemisphere.
The Dominican Republic’s economy is largely propelled by services and industries like tourism. In Haiti, they’re more reliant on agriculture.
The Dominican Republic has taken full advantage of the island’s natural beauty – fancy resorts cater to tourists seeking a beach escape and multi-lane highways criss-cross the country. In Haiti, such modern luxuries are virtually nonexistent.
Political instability has played a major role in each country’s ability to tackle problems, large and small. Haiti was ruled nearly three decades by father-son dictators, who assassinated political foes and eliminated dissent. The Dominican Republic, on the other hand, has held competitive elections since 1996.
In a ranking by Transparency International of corruption, Haiti ranks near the bottom as 158th out of 167 countries. Dominican Republic ranks as 103rd.
Here’s a look at their leadership:
After grappling with the dictatorship of Rafael Leonidas Trujillo (1930-1961) and the tight rule of Joaquin Balaguer (1966-1996), the Dominican Republic has held competitive presidential elections. Danilo Medina Sanchez became president in 2012 and was re-elected in 2016.
The Haiti leadership remains in flux. From 1957 to 1986 Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier and his son Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier retained power. In February, President Michel Martelly stepped down after five years in office, leaving Haiti with no successor after elections marred by allegations of fraud were postponed twice. The Haitian Parliament elected a new interim president Jocelerme Privert. The presidential election in October was postponed due to Hurricane Matthew.