Environment and Natural Hazards


The Republic of Haiti is located on the island of Hispaniola, in the Caribbean (19° 00' N and 72° 25' W). Haiti has a surface area of 27,750 km2 and is located in the western part of the Island, with the Dominican Republic (48,730 km2) occupying the eastern part. Hispaniola is separated from Cuba by the Windward Passage, an 83 km-wide strait that passes between the two islands.

Mainland Haiti can be divided into three regions: the northern region, which includes the northern peninsula; the central region; and the southern region, which includes the southern peninsula. In addition, Haiti also includes several nearby islands: Ile de la Gonâve, Ile de la Tortue (Tortuga Island), Grande Cayemite, and Ile à Vache.

Haiti has a mountainous and rough terrain, with more than three quarters of the area above 180 meters. The country's indigenous name, Ayiti, means "high land". The country is traversed by two main mountain chains: the Massif du Nord in the North, and the Chaine de la Selle in the South, which harbors the highest point in Haiti, Pic la Selle (2,680 meters).

Interspersed within this rugged terrain are small flatlands and river valleys. Flatlands, which are mainly located near the coasts, account for only a quarter of the country's area. The main flatlands are Plaine du Nord, Plaine de l'Artibonite, Plaine du Cul de Sac, Plaine des cayes, Plaine de Léogane, and Plaine de l'Arbre. The most important flatland in terms of agriculture is Plaine de l'Artibonite, home to the largest drainage system in the country, that of the Artibonite River.

The Artibonite is Haiti's longest and most important river. After rising in the foothills of the Massif du Nord, the river crosses the border into the Dominican Republic and then forms part of the border before reentering Haiti. At 400km-long (of which 365 km are in Haiti), it forms a major channel of exchange between Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The Péligre dam, built on the Artibonite, provides energy to Port-au-Prince and its area.

The Artibonite, like all of Haiti's numerous rivers and streams, is subject to dramatic seasonal fluctuations. During the wet season, is it is more than three meters deep and subject to flooding; during the dry season, it is only one meter deep, and may even dry up completely in certain spots.

Haiti's Climate

Haiti has a hot and humid tropical climate. However, within this general category, the country is divided into two major climatic regions: a monsoon tropical climate along its northern coast, and a wet-dry tropical climate in the rest of the country. This difference in climate is due to the influence the tropical easterlies (northeast trade winds), which transport warm, moist, maritime air along the Northern coast of Hispaniola, producing heavy rainfall over northern Haiti and the Dominican Republic located to its east. The wet-dry tropical zone,  where the great majority of Haiti's land and population are located, is characterized by greater annual variability in mean temperature (ranging from 18° to 27°C) and lower total annual rainfall.

There are four main seasons, determined by rainfall: two rainy seasons (a long and a short one) alternating with two dry seasons. Though there is some variation between regions, overall the rainy seasons occur in spring (April-June) and fall (September-November), and the dry seasons in summer and winter. The average annual rainfall is 140 cm, but is unevenly distributed. The northern mountains and the southern peninsula receive the most rain, while the western coast (including the Port-au-Prince region) and the Center/ Artibonite region are relatively dry. Thus, the Artibonite region receives on average only 56% of the precipitation received in the northern region.

Vulnerability to Natural Disasters: Hurricanes and Earthquakes

Haiti's geographic location in the middle of the Caribbean Sea hurricane corridor brings severe storms from June to October every year. On average, a hurricane or tropical depression sweeps through the country every two years.  In Haiti, hurricanes have caused more deaths, displacement of people, and damage to infrastructure than any other climate-induced factor in the twentieth century. The destructiveness of hurricanes stems from both their direct effects (intense wind and rain) and indirect ones (floods, landslides, and disease outbreaks).

Two thousand and eight was the worst year on record for hurricanes, which the country is still recovering from. Within the span of two months, four major hurricanes hit the island, together causing about 700 deaths and affecting an additional 250,000 people. The 2008 hurricanes also had an unusually devastating impact on natural resources, particularly in terms of erosion. Large flatland areas were literally washed away by torrential waters, leading to a significant and permanent loss of agricultural land. Infrastructure, such as water and sanitation, telephone and electrical systems, roads and bridges were damaged making access to many areas impossible and hampering aid efforts, economic activities, access to food and health care The World Bank estimated the combined economic losses and damages from the four hurricanes to be around USD $900 million, or around 15% of Haiti's GDP.

Most scientific studies show that hurricanes have increased in intensity and frequency over recent decades. This is confirmed by observations on the ground from farmers, fishermen, local village leaders, and the national government.

Haiti's geographic location also makes it vulnerable to another type of natural disaster, earthquakes. The country is located on the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault, where the North American plate and the Caribbean plate meet. The grinding of the two plates against each other has caused several major earthquakes in Haiti, with the most destructive ones occurring in 1701, 1751, 1770, 1910, and finally in January 2010.

Climate Change

Significant changes are already occurring in the Northern Caribbean climate, and further changes are forecasted. The anticipated changes are all negative and are listed below:

Temperature rise: In the next 20 years, temperatures are expected to rise by 0.6 – 0.9 C Celsius. This will increase water stress episodes, thereby having a significant adverse effect on agriculture.

Change in rainfall patterns Rainfall patterns are projected to shift, through increased intensity of rainfall events on the one hand, and a different timing of wet seasons on the other. These changes will increase flood risks and make it harder for farmers to plan appropriately.

  • Sea level rise In the next 20 years, sea level is expected to rise by 6-8cm. This will adversely affect beaches, mangroves and coastal cities, through more frequent storm surges and increased beach erosion.
  • Sea Surface Temperature rise In the next 20 years, sea surface temperature is expected to rise by 0.3-0.4 C Celsius, which may cause shallow corals to die-off from episodic heat stress.
  • More frequent hurricanes Because there is a strong positive correlation between ocean warming and hurricane frequency, it is likely that hurricanes will become more and more frequent in Haiti.


 Haiti's poverty, instability and environmental degradation are tightly interlinked problems. The destroyed rural environment currently cannot fully feed the population or provide adequate livelihoods. The degraded catchments also leave both its rural and urban populations highly vulnerable to flooding.

A particular challenge for Haiti is river basin management. Forest cover in the steep hills

retains soil, which in turn retains water from rainfall, reducing river flood peaks and conserving flows in the dry season. With most of the forest and much of the soil gone in the upper catchments, many of Haiti's rivers are now highly unstable, changing rapidly from destructive flooding to inadequate flows.

River basin management must therefore start in the mountainous areas, by halting deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices on steep slopes in upper river catchments. These practices drive soil loss by erosion, soil fertility losses, and landslides and reduced water retention. On the slopes themselves, the result is lower and less reliable crop yields and extensive damage to the soil profile. Further downstream in river areas, the effects include unwanted sediment deposition and increased flood surges, which directly result in both fertile land loss from the upper floodplains (riverbed widening) and in catastrophic flooding in vulnerable townships in the lower floodplains.

In marine and coastal zones, mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs in Haiti are severely degraded. Although specific issues prevail, several problems are closely linked to those encountered in the mountain ecosystems. Sedimentation caused by the erosion of the upper parts of the watersheds, overexploitation of resources, land-based source pollution and habitat encroachment put these ecosystems under pressure. As a consequence, this reduces fishing catches and limits the potential for aquaculture. Conversely, the lack of fishing equipment and limited fishing techniques prevent Haitian fishermen from accessing marine resources further offshore, creating an imbalance between overexploited and underexploited resources.

 Moreover, the degradation of mangroves and coral reefs prevent them from playing their role of natural buffers against storms and hurricanes. Finally, the degradation of marine and coastal zones also limits the development of international coastal resort tourism (an important source of income for many other Caribbean islands).

The environmental challenges facing the country are well recognized and understood at all levels, from the highest political spheres to individual farmers. Rural communities often exploit and degrade natural resources despite knowing the long term negative effects, simply because they have no other alternative. What is needed is an integrated approach to environmental restoration based on sustainable livelihoods, which provides people with alternatives to their current practices.

Some positive signs demonstrate that overcoming these difficulties and reversing the trend is possible. In selected areas, some conservation and restoration projects have succeeded in stabilizing environmental degradation and improving the situation. The impact of prior initiatives such as the introduction of eucalyptus trees can be seen scattered throughout the countryside. Finally, certain marine and coastal zones remain relatively preserved and pristine.

Haiti- Key environmental statistics


  • Percentage of remaining original forest cover: less than 1%.
  • Current total forest cover – all types: 3.8%.
  • Ongoing deforestation rate- unquantified but clearly significant. 75% of energy demands are satisfied by wood fuel (fire wood & charcoal).

Biodiversity and protected areas:

  • Percentage of areas under effective protected area management: 0.35% to 0. A single site in the Massif La Hotte contains the entire known population of 13 Critically Endangered and Endangered species, more than any other site in the world. 46 of 50 Haitian frog species are threatened, representing a critical threat for global biodiversity. 

Soil and erosion:

  • 63% of the land surface has a slope of over 20%, yet 58% of the area is subject to some form of agriculture.
  • Of the country's 30 major river basins, 25 are severely eroded.
  • Annual soil losses are calculated at 36, 6 Million of tons.
  • 6% of land area is impacted by irreversible erosion (no soil left). 

Freshwater pollution:

  • 50% of rural and 33% of urban population are without an improved water source
  • 84% rural and 62% urban population are without improved sanitation facilities.

Coastal and marine environments:

  • Haiti has 1,535 km of coastline, and an island shelf which totals around 5,000 km2.
  • Mangroves, sea grass beds and coral reefs in Haiti are locally highly degraded and under continued significant pressure from overexploitation of resources, land based pollution and sedimentation, habitat encroachment and destruction.


Consulat General d'Haiti à Montreal (2006), L'Economie Haitienne, http://www.haiti.org/images/stories/pdf/leconomie_haitienne.pdf

Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, Haïti Country Profile, accessed December 2010

FAO Aquastat, Haiti Profile, http://www.fao.org/nr/water/aquastat/countries/haiti/index.stm, accessed December 2010

UNEP (2009) Haiti Regeneration Initiative Preliminary Concept Note, http://haitiregeneration.org/documents/HRI%20documents/HRI%20concept%20n...