Haiti and Dominican Republic Map

People lie on deck chairs on a sandy beach (Foto: CC BY-SA 2.0: Ronald Saunders)Though Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, they remain worlds apart. That's seen, for instance, in the infrastructure. "The Dominican Republic has proper streets so that you can get from one place to another without serious problems, " Heinz Oelers, an expert on Latin America at the Christian charity Misereor says. In Haiti, on the other hand, "you often need an hour just to travel a few kilometers, " he adds.

It's a similar picture in other areas too. According to the United Nations, only about 50 percent of Haitians can read and write (as opposed to nearly 90 percent in neighboring Dominican Republic) and child mortality rates in Haiti are three times higher than in the Dominican Republic.

Port-au-Prince (Foto: CC BY 2.0: newbeatfoto)Climate change hits Haiti hard

The huge differences between the two countries play a direct role in how far they are affected by climate change and how they're dealing with the consequences.

Haiti's huge coastline makes it especially vulnerable to hurricanes. Since all the country's big cities are located on the coast, floods often have dramatic repercussions. The weak infrastructure hampers quick delivery of aid and emergency help during natural catastrophes. As a result, some 220, 000 people were killed during an earthquake in early 2010.

A woman holds a peanut branch in her hand (Foto: CC BY 2.0: Alex E. Proimos)Most people in Haiti live in shanty towns that are dotted around the country

Since no Haitian city has a regular electricity supply, for many residents wood remains the most important source of energy. That's one reason why the island's forest cover has largely disappeared.

The bare mountains lead to strong rains washing away the soil cover. That in turn makes life worse for the local residents since Haiti is densely populated and heavily rural.

Thick vegetation is needed to keep the soil intact, Heinz Oelers says. To do that "you could for instance combine forestry and food crop cultivation, " he says. "Instead of growing grain on large areas, you could turn to cultivating fruits such as cassava, bananas and avocados that grow well in the Tropics."

Different colonial pasts

So just how did two neighboring island nations turn out so differently? The main reasons lie in the region's history. The entire island of Hispaniola was long under Spanish rule until 1697, when the Spanish rulers handed over the western third of the island to France.

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