The earthquake that has hit Haiti, raising fears that thousands have been killed, is the latest in a long line of natural disasters to befall a country ill-equipped to deal with such events.
Hurricanes and flooding are perennial concerns for the poorest country in the western hemisphere, which has time and again been dependent on foreign aid in emergencies. In 1963 hurricane Flora, the sixth deadliest Atlantic hurricane in history, devastated the island. The U.S. weather bureau estimated the death toll at 5,000 and the cost of damage to property and crops at between $125m and $180m.
The country was struck by two disasters in 2004. In May, heavy rains caused flooding that killed more than 2,000 people. Four months later, mudslides and flooding caused by hurricane Jeanne, the 12th deadliest Atlantic hurricane, killed more than 3,000 people, mostly in the town of Gonaives.
Tragedy struck again in 2008 when four storms — tropical storm Fay, hurricane Gustav, hurricane Hanna and hurricane Ike — dumped heavy rains on the country. Around 1,000 people died and 800,000 were left homeless. The number of people affected by the storms was put at 800,000 — almost 10 per cent of the population — with the damage estimated at $1bn.
Deforestation that allows rainwater to wash down mountain slopes is believed to have exacerbated many of the natural disasters in Haiti. Two-thirds of Haitians live off the land and the same proportion on less than $2 a day, so the impact of such tragedies has been long lasting. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2010