Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in Latin America, second only to Haiti. Most of the poverty in Nicaragua exists rurally (more than 80 percent,) but there are also very impoverished neighborhoods in the capital of Managua. In fact, 43 percent of the Nicaraguan population lives in rural areas and 68 percent of them are trying to survive off just over $1 per day. Overall, 46.2 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
The poverty in Nicaragua has caused extremely poor health conditions. HIV and AIDS have been a big issue; there have also been frequent reports of violence against women. Many organizations have been working to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS and provide support for those with it, to empower women in their fight for freedom from violence and to empower the youth to encourage them to change their society.
Over the last 40 years, there has been extreme inequality and the country has had to overcome a cruel dictatorship, a gruesome civil war and multiple natural disasters. Another big problem is that the central government has historically marginalized the areas with large populations of indigenous people. The gross domestic product (GDP) per capita has decreased to only one-third of what it was in 1977 because of the combined impact of continued civil strife, trade embargos, unsuitable macroeconomic policies and institutional changes that are leading toward an even and more centrally-controlled economy.
Unemployment across the entire country is at 12 percent, but among the poor rural families, it is over 20 percent, so many rural families are migrating to other countries or urban areas within Nicaragua to find work. Remittances are vital sources of income for one in every five families and account for 20 percent of the country’s GDP.
Fortunately, the Nicaraguan economy has been growing substantially and has recently received lots of attention, having grown 30 percent since 2006, when the Sandinistas came back into power. Also, the GDP per capita has increased from $1,239 to $1,582 in the past year alone. Also, the Nicaraguan government has signed a lucrative memorandum of understanding with a telecommunications company from China to fund and build an inter-oceanic canal that is said to rival the Panama Canal.
Nicaragua is presently importing oil from Venezuela at solidarity rates, so Nicaragua pays extremely low prices up front for the first half of the oil and then pays low-interest loans over time for the rest. The Central Bank has said that macro-business development and social programs are funded by 62 percent of the Nicaraguan oil revenue.
Because of all of this news in the last five years, extreme poverty (measured by a familial income of less than $1.25 per day) in Nicaragua has fallen from 11.2 percent to 5.5 percent. In 2011, Nicaragua was reported to have an economic growth of 5.1 percent, which was the highest in Central America. Despite all of this good news, a considerable amount of work still needs to be done before it can fully eradicate poverty.
– Kenneth W. Kliesner