Like most developing nations, Haiti faces natural risks including drought, hurricanes, and earthquakes as well as human-induced economic and health hazards. Even before the devastating 2010 earthquake, average Haitians were having difficulty finding the means to sustain themselves. In 2008, Haiti faced a sharp rise in food and fuel prices as well as bad weather conditions. These exacerbated a major decline in international trade due to global recession. These conditions initiated an economic crisis for the typical Haitian citizen.
On January 12th 2010, a 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti, with its epicenter in Léogâne, a town 35 kilometers west of Port-au-Prince. It was the most powerful earthquake in over 200 years causing record numbers of deaths, injuries, and displacements. Water, electric infrastructure, roads, and port systems in the capital and surrounding areas were damaged in the earthquake. Unfortunately not only did the earthquake cause tremendous physical damage, the consequent lack of hygiene and sanitation in the wake of the physical damage post earthquake resulted in the spread of a cholera in various parts of the county in October of 2010. Over 230,000 cases have been reported, and over 4500 deaths. According to USAID this disease will most likely be present in Haiti for over a decade.
Before the earthquake, poverty was endemic in Haiti, with more than half the population living on less than one dollar a day. Most of the destitute individuals live in the rural areas but after the earthquake many men and women made the trip to the capital in search of a better life. Like many other developing nations, the wealth distribution is exceedingly uneven, with the 2001 Household Living Conditions Survey stating the poorest 20% of Haitians have only 2% of the income, while the richest 20% of Haitians have 68% of income in the country.
Given these natural and man-made conditions, the present circumstances in towns and cities in Haiti are challenging and often unhealthy. Some impoverished people still live in tent cities, either in fear that their concrete roofs will collapse, or with nowhere else to go. Open sewers and water drains are blocked and fetid causing the spread of diseases like Malaria, Typhoid, and now the ever-present mosquito-borne virus Chikungunya. Many houses that are still standing show structural instability with missing walls, caved-in roofs and ladders to take individuals to the upper floors. Even buildings previously thought sturdy in the capital are now in ruin, several important cathedrals and the presidential palace among them.