What are the poorest countries in the Caribbean

Haiti and the Dominican Republic: one island - two worlds

Palm trees, miles of sandy beaches, bright blue sea - at first glance, the Dominican Republic looks like a paradise. Several million people visit the country every year for vacation. The beauty of nature and the luxurious hotels hide the fact that the Dominican Republic is one of the less prosperous countries in Latin America - and that just across the border is Haiti, the poorest state in the western world.

About four million tourists travel to the Dominican Republic each year

Although Haiti and the Dominican Republic share an island, they could hardly be more different. Take infrastructure as an example: “In the Dominican Republic there is a reasonable road system, so that you can travel from one place to another without major problems,” says Latin America expert Heinz Oelers from the Catholic aid organization Misereor. In Haiti, on the other hand, "you often need an hour for a few kilometers."

The picture is similarly opposite in other areas. According to the United Nations, only just under half of Haitians can read and write (compared to just under 90 percent of people in the neighboring country) and child mortality in Haiti is almost three times higher than in the Dominican Republic.

Climate change hits Haiti particularly hard

Most of the people in Haiti live in settlements that are scattered across the country

The large differences also have a direct impact on how both countries are affected by climate change and how they deal with the consequences. The country's large coastal area, for example, makes Haiti particularly vulnerable to hurricanes. Since all major cities are by the sea, floods often have dramatic effects. The lack of infrastructure makes it difficult to get help quickly, by the way, also in the case of other natural disasters: Around 220,000 people were killed in the earthquake at the beginning of 2010.

Because there is no regular power supply in any city in Haiti, wood is the most important source of energy for many Haitians - one reason why the country's forests have largely disappeared. The bare mountains mean that heavy rain washes away the soil. And that worsens the livelihood of the local people, because in contrast to the Dominican Republic, Haiti is densely populated and very rural. In order to preserve the soil, thick vegetation is important, says Heinz Oelers. In order to achieve this, “forest management and food cultivation can be combined, for example. Instead of growing grain on large areas, fruits such as cassava, bananas and avocados, which grow well in the tropics, are ideal. "

Different colonial history

About two thirds of Haiti's population make a living from agriculture

But how is it that the two island neighbors have developed so differently? The reasons lie mainly in the past. The entire island of Hispaniola was under Spanish rule for a long time - until Spain ceded the western third to France in 1697. The area called “Saint-Domingue” developed into the richest French colony. Hundreds of thousands of African slaves were brought there for the production of sugar, coffee, cocoa and cotton. In 1791 there was a slave revolt. Soon afterwards, slavery was abolished and, after a cruel war of liberation, independence was proclaimed in 1804. From then on, Saint-Domingue was called Haiti.

But the former colony was struggling with problems. The large lands were divided among the population. Soon almost every Haitian owned land, but hardly anyone could make a living from it - the plots were too small and the new owners found it difficult to agree on joint management. In addition, the Haitian population is anything but homogeneous. “The slaves came from over a hundred different ethnic groups and originally had nothing to do with each other,” says Oliver Gliech, Haiti expert at the Latin America Institute of the Free University of Berlin. “For decades you have seen power exercised and legitimized by force.” So it is no wonder that the bloody chaos of war in the 19th century was followed by rebellions and coups, putschists, self-proclaimed monarchs and dictators who quickly took turns. This pattern continues to this day.

Vegetation is the key to new perspectives

On the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic

After the Spaniards had mined many raw materials on their two-thirds of the island, most of the settlers moved on to Mexico. In the colony of Santo Domingo, which later became the Dominican Republic, there was soon only livestock farming. “A homogeneous, Spanish-born society with a very small class of African slaves has developed there,” says Oliver Gliech. Gliech cites the fact that there were fewer different ethnic groups as one reason why the Dominican Republic, which only became independent later, was soon more economically and politically stable than its neighbor. The country has also experienced dictators and a civil war. But the Dominicans have succeeded in establishing a reasonably democratic political system over the past 50 years. Tourism is now one of the country's main sources of income.

Haiti is far from that. Reforestation projects could be a concrete step to help people in the crisis-plagued country regain a livelihood. Wooded areas also prevent landslides caused by floods and storms - which are more common in the region due to climate change. In the Dominican Republic, much more attention was paid to vegetation in the past. Because of the significantly better living conditions, many Haitians are trying to find refuge and work in the Dominican Republic. Even if the neighboring state is not one of the wealthy countries in Latin America: from the point of view of some Haitians, it is paradise.