Nicaragua struggles with drought

BY RACHEL CLARK | BALTIMORE | September 12, 2002

"Throughout Central America, we see both a coffee crisis and another difficult drought."

—Christiane Berthiaume

Nicaragua -- like many countries -- has suffered from natural disasters for years. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch tore up much of the country. Last summer, a drought plagued the region. This year, another drought is diminishing crops.

"Throughout Central America, we see both a coffee crisis and another difficult drought," said World Food Programme (WFP) spokesperson Christiane Berthiaume. "Low prices worldwide have driven down supply, leading to high unemployment in the coffee sector. This has particularly affected the poor, day laborers who rely on coffee earnings to survive. They now have no money to buy food."

According to WFP, Nicaragua is the second-poorest country -- Haiti is the poorest -- in Central America. About half the population lives below the poverty line.

Past environmental and economical disasters have severely impacted the futures of Nicaraguans. Declining coffee prices and insecure agricultural environments have raised the poverty rate of farmers.

"These obstacles have left many people without jobs or income, meaning that these families are unable to purchase food even if it is available in local markets," a Catholic Relief Services (CRS) representative said.

To respond to the drought, CRS has distributed food and vitamin supplies and taught improved planting and post-harvest techniques to farmers.

"CRS has been developing short and long-term projects in Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras to mitigate the effects of job loss and low crop production brought on by last summer's drought," a CRS representative said.

This year's drought has also severely crippled crop production. According to humanitarian agency CARE, the drought has "resulted in considerable losses of food grains for small and medium rural produces.

"The food security of thousands of families has been placed at risk," a CARE representative said.

To reduce the impact of the drought, CARE is focusing on the production of food crops, like basic grains and family gardens.

WFP is particularly concerned with Nicaragua's malnourished children, who are suffering from weakened immune systems.

"Health care workers in the area are seeing a high prevalence of respiratory infections, skin disease and diarrhea," said Berthiaume. "When a child is chronically malnourished, the immune system begins to break down. This leads to diseases and infections ... which can lead to long-term damage or death."

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