Haiti v. Dominican Republic: Energy Makes the Difference

Sometimes a picture tells a thousand words and what this satellite picture of the island that holds Haiti and the Dominican Republic tells us is that energy poverty is real.  At night, the people of Haiti are literally in the dark, whereas those in the Dominican Republic have light, and Puerto Rico has even more (this image is pre Hurricane Maria).

Haiti Suffers from Energy Poverty

Haiti has one of the least developed energy sectors in the Americas, with less than 40% of the population having access to electric power [1]. Of those, an estimated 50% tap into the electric supply illegally.  In fact, there is no national electric grid, but instead a primitive, unreliable grid for the capitol city that connects to a handful of remote iso-grids, all operated by Electricite d’Haiti, the national power utility.

Though their populations are similar (10.6 million for Haiti and 10.7 million for the Dominican Republic), Haiti consumes approximately 19,000 bbl/day of refined petroleum products; whereas the Dominican Republic consumes approximately 114,000 bbl/day of refined petroleum products.

It is no surprise that with the lack of reliable energy sources Haiti continues to be the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, with 60% living below the poverty line and 54% living in abject poverty [2]. Haitian businesses must resort to diesel generators rather than rely on the electric grid. Tariffs on energy used by Haitian businesses are among the highest in the region, keeping energy prices prohibitive for many, and stifling business development and investment.

Energy Poverty has Resulted in Deforestation

Because so few Haitians have access to electric power, they have no choice but to cut down trees and burn wood for cooking [3].  The devastation on the environment from consuming 4 million metric tons annually of wood product can clearly be seen along the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic [4].

Energy Poverty Causes Health Hazards

Approximately one-third of Haitian wood product is converted to charcoal and for cooking (in contrast to the Dominican Republic where propane, a clean burning fossil fuel, is used for cooking).  The burning of wood and charcoal creates significant indoor air pollution for Haitian families.

Indoor air pollution is considered the world’s deadliest environmental problem, claiming up to 4 million deaths annually – more than HIV/AIDS and malaria combined [5]. The most common pollution-related causes of death are lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.  Indoor air pollution is caused by the burning of wood, charcoal, dung, or plant residue to heat homes and supply cooking fuel, and is seen mostly to the poorest regions of Africa and Asia.  The scarcity of fossil fuels (such as clean-burning natural gas to create electricity) leave the world’s poorest families no choice but to heat homes and cook with primitive, and often unhealthy, energy sources.

Contrary to popular belief, there is a positive correlation between the use of fossil fuel (whether natural gas, or electricity derived from fossil fuels) and health; The U.S. environmental record would suggest that the more fossil fuels a country uses to fuel its homes, the cleaner the air, and the fewer the deaths [6].

Haiti at a Glance

  • Population: 10.6 million
  • % of population with access to electricity: 38%
  • Consumption of refined petroleum products: 19,000 bbl/day
  • GDP (purchasing power parity): $19.88 billion (2017 est.)
  • GDP (real growth rate): 1% (2017 est.)
  • GDP – per capita: $1,800 (2017 est.)
  • Unemployment Rate: 40.6 % (2010 est.)
  • Infant Mortality: 46.8/1,000 live births
  • Life expectancy at birth: 64.2 years
  • Literacy: 60.7% [7]

Dominican Republic at a glance:

The Dominican Republic has the most impressive economic growth record in Latin America.  Low energy costs, tax reform, and cuts in government spending have reduced the country’s budget deficit from 6.6% of GDP in 2012 to 2.6% of GDP in 2016. Like Haiti, Dominican Republic held a large debt with Petrocaribe for energy (petroleum) imports, but has successfully paid down 4 billion with global bond issuance.

  • Population: 10.7 million
  • % of population with access to electricity: 98%
  • Consumption of petroleum products: 114,000 bbl/day
  • GDP (purchasing power parity): $172.6 billion (2017 est.)
  • GDP (real growth rate): 4.8% (2017 est.)
  • GDP – per capita: $17,000 (2017 est.)
  • Unemployment Rate: 5.5 % (2010 est.)
  • Infant Mortality: 17.5/1,000 live births
  • Life expectancy at birth: 78.3 years
  • Literacy: 91.8% [8]

In the 1960s and 70s, Dominican Republic launched programs to harness the country’s hydroelectric power potential and to spare the forests by importing propane and natural gas for cooking [9]. Dominican Republic continues to increase its natural gas procurement, with new LNG import deals making the news [10].

As late as the 1990s, the Dominican Republic suffered from unreliable electric supplies, substandard electric grids, and blackouts, harming investment and stifling economic growth.  Corruption and the inefficiencies of a state owned electric monopoly blunted progress.

The country successfully reversed course by investing in rehabilitation of the electric grid and introducing competition in the energy sector.  Then, beginning in 2008, the Dominican Corporation of State Electricity Companies (CDEEE) launched a project to improve electric distribution among the country’s three electricity companies (EdeEste, EdeNorte, and EdeSur) to insure reliability, reducing the length and frequency of blackouts [11].


[1] https://www.usaid.gov/haiti/energy    Last updated January 25, 2018. https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html  Last updated Feb. 22, 2018, citing to stats for 2013.

[2] https://theodora.com/wfbcurrent/haiti/haiti_economy.html    Last updated February 28, 2018.

[3] https://www.usaid.gov/haiti/energy    Last updated January 25, 2018.

[4] Photo contrasting deforestation of Haiti to deforestation in the Dominican Republic at https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/vis/a000000/a002600/a002640/   Because this is a government-published image, it is in the public domain and available for public use.  Jacki Pick emailed Alex Kekesi, Principal Programmer for NASA’s visual images, on March 6, 2018 to confirm clearance to publish. https://science.gsfc.nasa.gov/sed/bio/alex.kekesi   Kekesi confirmed permission to republish via email on March 6, 2018, requiring that the photo be credited to:  “NASA / Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio.”

[5] http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(14)70168-7/fulltext    https://www.vox.com/2016/5/26/11771630/indoor-air-pollution-cookstoves

[6] http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanres/article/PIIS2213-2600(14)70168-7/fulltext citing a World Health Organization map of household air pollution and mortality;  Fueling Freedom, Ch. 10, Kathleen Harnett White and Stephen Moore.

[7] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/ha.html

[8] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/dr.html

[9] https://www.theglobalist.com/haiti-and-the-dominican-republic-one-island-two-worlds/

[10] seaonecorp.com/…/uploads/2017/07/To-The-Caribbean-With-Gas.pdf  ; https://knect365.com/energy/article/db9cfe8d-8808-4dda-a970-c4f5697a4521/gas-is-a-natural-for-the-dominican-republic

[11] http://www.worldbank.org/en/results/2014/09/25/better-electricity-services-dominican-republic


Key Facts
Haiti Suffers from Energy Poverty
Energy Poverty has Resulted in Deforestation
Energy Poverty Causes Health Hazards