|Nearly 70 per cent of Haitians live on less than $2 a day and the literacy rate is 45 per cent [AFP]
The Caribbean nation of Haiti is the second poorest country in the Western hemisphere, according to a 2009 International Monetary Fund (IMF) report.
It is one of the least developed in the world with four out of five of its people living in poverty.
The tropical, mountainous country shares the island of Hispaniola with the Dominican Republic and lies less than 80km east of Cuba.
A former French colony, Haiti gained independence in 1804 and has since struggled with both political crises and devastating natural disasters that have left the country's infrastructure close to total collapse.
The world's first black republic, Haiti has a population of nearly nine million people, many of whom are the descendants of freed slaves who founded the country following a revolt that led to Haiti's independence.
The Creole- and French-speaking country was ruled for centuries by Spain and later France, but was also occupied by the US between 1915 and 1934.
Decades of dictatorships
But it gained notoriety for periods of brutal dictatorships from the late 1950s until the mid-1980s under Francois "Papa Doc" Duvalier and Jean Claude "Baby Doc" Duvalier, his son.
After decades of dictatorship, Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a former Roman Catholic priest, became Haiti's first freely elected leader in 1990.
He was ousted in a military coup a year later, but was reinstated with support from the United States.
He was subsequently forced out of the country and into exile in 2004 by a rebellion of former soldiers.
The country has been led by Rene Preval, the current president, since May 2006, when Haiti returned to constitutional rule.
But violence has continued to rock the country with bloody clashes between drug trafficking gangs.
The violence comes despite the presence of nearly 9,000 UN police and troops stationed in Port-au-Prince, Haiti's capital, since 2004 to maintain order and strengthen the nation's government.
Series of disasters
The years of political upheaval, environmental degradation and instability have made living conditions for many Haitians particularly difficult.
In addition, the country has been hit by a series of disasters recently and was battered by hurricanes in 2008.
Nearly 70 per cent of the country's people live on less than $2 a day, and Haiti's literacy rate is 45 per cent.
There is a high infant mortality rate and the prevalence of HIV among those between ages 15 and 49 is 2.2 per cent.
Two-thirds of Haitians depend on agriculture and many are subsistence farmers.
Exports include coffee and textiles, but the country's main source of foreign income comes from remittances from Haitians working abroad.