Satellite imagery maps Haiti’s sociopolitical landscape

By Daniel Collins 16/01/2010

A key factor in the magnitude of the disaster the followed the earthquake in Haiti last week, and will continue to follow for weeks or months, was the society’s high vulnerability and low resilience. A key factor is this is poor governance.

We are probably aware of the political turmoil that rolls through Haiti from time to time – the 2004 rebellion, for example. There is no standing army, a weak police force, and corruption is taken for granted.

But we can also get a sense of Haiti’s sociopolitical institutions from satellite imagery, and make comparisons with its neighbour the Dominican Republic.

Go to Google Earth and follow the Haiti-Dominican Republic border from coast to coast. You’ll see tangible differences in land management practices and in urban planning.

Haiti is less forested, and its remaining forest seems to be there just because it hasn’t yet been cleared. Coherent agricultural units are smaller. Urban units are smaller. Dominican Republic land users appear to preferentially avoid farming streams or rivers, probably reflecting the use of farm machinery or erosion control. Light splotches in the cleared Haitian portion of second image are possibly the remnants of fires used in the course of the clearance. In each of these images, Haiti is to the left of yellow line.


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