Haiti, derived from the Taino language meaning land of high mountains, has a unique albeit complicated political history. Previously as the French colony of Saint-Domingue, its terrain was significantly transformed to make way for intensive sugarcane plantations based on slave labor. It was once the wealthiest colony in the world and formerly the center of France's economic power in the Americas.
The Republic of Haiti was established in 1804 when black slaves and free people of color liberated themselves from French colonial rule after a violent thirteen year revolution, the only time in history in which a slave rebellion has successfully led to the creation of an independent state. This triumph of spirit was no match for the structural poverty that was created by the consequences of French colonialism, which overexploited the land’s natural capacity, and 150 years of war debts levied on Haiti by the French as a punishment for its independence. Today, there is no nationwide water or sanitation system and sustainable collection and treatment of sewage is practically non-existent throughout the country. Only 24% of Haitians have access to a toilet. Its infant mortality rate (47 per 1000 births) is the highest in the Americas and over twice that of neighboring Dominican Republic (World Bank). Haiti’s challenges are complex: a long history of political oppression, foreign economic and political meddling, endemic corruption, profound socioeconomic inequality, environmental degradation, and high illiteracy (40%) were then compounded by the 2010 earthquake which killed an estimated 160,000 Haitians (UNICEF). Shortly thereafter, cholera, which is not native to the region, was carried into country by infected foreign UN troops. Coupled with the nation's lack of sanitation infrastructure, the bacteria quickly infiltrated surface water supplies. The resulting outbreak infected 7% of the Haitian population and has killed over 9,000 people. Today, Haiti is reorganizing itself politically although concrete progress is difficult to demonstrate.