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Results Briefs June 26, 2018

Understanding the Future of Haitian Cities


Emmanuel Wilkinton studying his science homework in Delmas 32, Haiti. 

Photo: Dominic Chavez / World Bank

Haiti faces the challenge of having a large urban but impoverished and underserved population. For Haitian cities to generate urbanization benefits for its increasingly urban population, prompt attention is needed to link people to jobs and businesses to markets; fill gaps in financing for capital investment; and strengthen governance and institutions by addressing planning and management constraints.


Today, more than half of Haiti’s population lives in the country’s cities and towns, a major shift from the 1950s, when approximately 90 percent of Haitians lived in the countryside. Worldwide, urbanization is usually paired with economic growth, increased productivity, and higher living standards, but this has not yet been the case in Haiti.

The potential benefits of urbanization have been hampered by the country’s immense challenges of connecting, planning, and financing, all of which  require immediate action. Connectivity and accessibility are essential to ensuring that people can reach their work places and that firms can access markets, and poor connectivity within Haiti’s cities limits both job access and economic opportunities.

In fact, 60 percent of households do not use motorized transport, and public transport in urban areas remains unaffordable to many. Resilient urban growth in Haiti has also been hindered by wide gaps in basic services, increasing exposure to natural disasters with resulting increases in vulnerability, and ineffective land-use planning.


The Haiti Urbanization Review was undertaken to better understand the factors constraining the sustainable, inclusive development of Haitian cities. The review focuses on three main issues: planning, connecting, and financing.

The specific objectives of the Haiti Urbanization Review were to (i) create an improved knowledge and analytical base on urban development in Haiti for use by the Government and other stakeholders; (ii) provide technical and policy advice for policy makers, partners and key stakholders to inform urban planning and service delivery in Haiti’ cities; and (iii) provide evidence to enhance the design and implementation of World Bank financed operations and strategies in Haiti.



An estimated 66% of land in the administrative area and 78% of built-up land is exposed to high seismic risk and the city continues to grow intensively in high-risk areas.


To better understand the factors constraining the sustainable, inclusive development of Haitian cities, the Review organized the challenges along three dimensions: planning, connecting, and financing.

  • The review of planning determined that resilient urban growth in Haiti is hindered by wide gaps in basic services, increasing exposure to natural disasters, and ineffective land-use planning. A key finding for Port-au-Prince, developed using older and new data sources, was that an estimated 66 percent of land in the administrative area and 78 percent of built-up land is exposed to high seismic risk and that the city continues to grow intensively in high-risk areas. 
  • The connectivity review summarized spatial pattern mapping for residential and job locations, providing data and analysis to underpin a discussion of the key access challenges limiting economic opportunities in Port-au-Prince and Cap Haïtien. An effective analysis of accessibility challenges depends on accurate information on where the jobs are in relation to where people live. Because Haiti’s latest census was carried out in 2003 and it has no business registry, the team turned to cellphones, partnering with Digicel, Haiti’s largest cell phone provider, and to Flowminder, a NGO with vast experience on cell phone data analysis for development purposes that had the trust of the private sector regarding its handling of sensitive data. Individuals’ use of their cell phones, combined with machine learning techniques, provided the team with a rich data set of key information on where people live and work. The team then traced the flows of people within the urban network, including the main job centers and the most common trips people take. Combining this with information on natural hazards, such as flooding, helped to identify the transport links that, if damaged, would have the most disruptive effect on the people and economy.The financing review explored the effect of limited municipal-level resources on local governments’ planning, services, and interconnections. Strengthening municipal finances is essential to closing the urban infrastructure and services gap and to accommodating Haiti’s growing urban population. Closing this gap will require consolidating, harmonizing, and enforcing  existing frameworks; building capacity and expanding financial opportunities; and widening and leveraging the local revenue base. 
  • The dissemination of the report in Port Au Prince (January 23, 2018) and in Cap Haïtien (January 25, 2018) sparked a vibrant conversation in the two cities and extensivemedia coverage showed how these issues resonate across all levels of government, the private sector and with Haitian citizens. There is a sense of optimism and urgency to generate inclusive and efficient urbanization of Haiti’s cities. The issue continues to be covered in the media five months after the launch and follow-up articles on urban resilience have been published by the World Bank team.
  • The findings from this study will inform Haiti’s growing urban portfolio, which provides a unique opportunity to apply these diagnostic tools, particularly in preparing the US$37.5 million Municipal Development and Urban Resilience Project for the Cap-Haïtien metropolitan area and in discussions on the National Urban Policy. It is already informing discussions on urban transport needs and related necessary policy changes. 

The Haiti Urbanization Review is available in the Bank’s Open Knowledge Repository in French and English, including an executive summary in Creole. 

World Bank Group Contribution 

The Haiti Urbanization Review was made possible by three grants: (i) support from the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR); (ii) a grant from the World Bank’s Jobs Umbrella Trust Fund, supported by the Department for International Development/UK AID, governments of Norway, Germany, and Austria, Austrian Development Agency, and by the Swedish Development Agency SIDA; and (iii) a grant from the Innovations in Big Data Analytics program under the Global Data and Text Analytics Operations unit in the Global Themes Vice Presidency of the World Bank.

Moving Forward

The study proposed three options for Haiti to strengthen resilience in its cities and improve opportunities for its urban dwellers. 

  • Tackle infrastructure gaps and prepare for future urban growth by investing in basic services, improving data to help assess and minimize Haitian cities’ risk exposure, strengthening propriety rights, and fostering cooperation between municipalities.
  • Address transport efficiency and affordability in coordination with land-use planning and transport systems.
  • Strengthen municipal financing to close infrastructure and services gaps and to accommodate the growing urban population. As cities expand in size and population, the challenge is to finance sustainable, inclusive urban development growth. This requires building capacity, developing accountability and expanded financial opportunities, and leveraging local revenues. 


Findings and recommendations resulting from the study are expected to support resilient and sustainable Haitian cities, thereby promoting opportunities for all. “The need is now to focus on meeting the growing demands for services and job opportunities, as well as affordable transport and housing in cities,” noted World Bank Country Director for Haiti, Anabela Abreu.

World Bank Director for Social, Urban, and Resilience Global Practice, Sameh Wahba, points out: “Closing the gap in infrastructure, services, and improving land-use planning will be key to reduce risks faced by Haitian urban dwellers. The  report aims at promoting a debate on the future of Haitian cities and identifies priority areas for action that can generate better services and opportunities for Haitians.”