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Haiti is a country of only about 28,000 square kilometers, about the size of the state of Maryland. It occupies the western third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola (La Isla Espańola); the Dominican Republic takes up the eastern two-thirds. Shaped like a horseshoe on its side, Haiti has two main peninsulas, one in the north and one in the south. Between the peninsulas is the Ile de la Gonāve.
Northwest of the northern peninsula is the Windward Passage, a strip of water that separates Haiti from Cuba, which is about ninety kilometers away. The eastern edge of the country borders the Dominican Republic. A series of treaties and protocols--the most recent of which was the Protocol of Revision of 1936--set the 388-kilometer eastern border, which is formed partly by the Pedernales River in the south and the Massacre River in the north.
The mainland of Haiti has three regions: the northern region, which includes the northern peninsula; the central region; and the southern region, which includes the southern peninsula. In addition, Haiti controls several nearby islands.
The northern region consists of the Massif du Nord (Northern Massif) and the Plaine du Nord (Northern Plain). The Massif du Nord, an extension of the central mountain range in the Dominican Republic, begins at Haiti's eastern border, north of the Guayamouc River, and extends to the northwest through the northern peninsula. The Massif du Nord ranges in elevation from 600 to 1,100 meters. The Plaine du Nord lies along the northern border with the Dominican Republic, between the Massif du Nord and the North Atlantic Ocean. This lowland area of 2,000 square kilometers is about 150 kilometers long and 30 kilometers wide.
The central region consists of two plains and two sets of mountain ranges. The Plateau Central (Central Plateau) extends along both sides of the Guayamouc River, south of the Massif du Nord. It runs eighty-five kilometers from southeast to northwest and is thirty kilometers wide. To the southwest of the Plateau Central are the Montagnes Noires, with elevations of up to approximately 600 meters. The most northwestern part of this mountain range merges with the Massif du Nord. Southwest of the Montagnes Noires and oriented around the Artibonite River is the Plaine de l'Artibonite, measuring about 800 square kilometers. South of this plain lie the Chaīne des Matheux and the Montagnes du Trou d'Eau, which are an extension of the Sierra de Neiba range of the Dominican Republic.
The southern region consists of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac and the mountainous southern peninsula. The Plaine du Cul-de-Sac is a natural depression, twelve kilometers wide, that extends thirtytwo kilometers from the border with the Dominican Republic to the coast of the Baie de Port-au-Prince. The mountains of the southern peninsula, an extension of the southern mountain chain of the Dominican Republic (the Sierra de Baoruco), extend from the Massif de la Selle in the east to the Massif de la Hotte in the west. The range's highest peak, the Morne de la Selle, is the highest point in Haiti, rising to an altitude of 2,715 meters. The Massif de la Hotte varies in elevation from 1,270 to 2,255 meters.
The four islands of notable size in Haitian territory are Ile de la Gonāve, Ile de la Tortue (Tortuga Island), Grande Cayemite, and Ile ą Vache. Ile de la Gonāve is sixty kilometers long and fifteen kilometers wide. The hills that cross the island rise to heights of up to 760 meters. Ile de la Tortue is located north of the northern peninsula, separated from the city of Port-de-Paix by a twelve-kilometer channel. Ile ą Vache is located south of the southern peninsula; Grande Cayemite lies north of the southern peninsula.
Numerous rivers and streams, which slow to a trickle during the dry season and which carry torrential flows during the wet season, cross Haiti's plains and mountainous areas. The largest drainage system in the country is that of the Artibonite River. Rising as the Libón River in the foothills of the Massif du Nord, the river crosses the border into the Dominican Republic and then forms part of the border before reentering Haiti as the Artibonite River. At the border, the river expands to form the Lac de Péligre in the southern part of the Plateau Central. The 400-kilometer Artibonite River is only one meter deep during the dry season, and it may even dry up completely in certain spots. During the wet season, it is more than three meters deep and subject to flooding.
The ninety-five-kilometer Guayamouc River is one of the principal tributaries of the Artibonite River. The most important river in the northern region is Les Trois Rivičres, or The Three Rivers. It is 150 kilometers long, has an average width of sixty meters, and is three to four meters deep.
The most prominent body of water in the southern region is the salt-water Etang Saumātre, located at the eastern end of the Plaine du Cul-de-Sac. At an elevation of sixteen meters above sea level, the lake is twenty kilometers long and six to fourteen kilometers wide; it has a circumference of eighty-eight kilometers.
Haiti has a generally hot and humid tropical climate. The north wind brings fog and drizzle, which interrupt Haiti's dry season from November to January. But during February through May, the weather is very wet. Northeast trade winds bring rains during the wet season.
The average annual rainfall is 140 to 200 centimeters, but it is unevenly distributed. Heavier rainfall occurs in the southern peninsula and in the northern plains and mountains. Rainfall decreases from east to west across the northern peninsula. The eastern central region receives a moderate amount of precipitation, while the western coast from the northern peninsula to Port-au-Prince, the capital, is relatively dry. Temperatures are almost always high in the lowland areas, ranging from 15 C to 25 C in the winter and from 25 C to 35 C during the summer.
SOURCES: Library of Congress Country Studies/Area Handbook