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Known for its tropical vistas and banana plantations, Costa Rica has also developed a well-deserved reputation for stability. Indeed, since abolishing its military in 1949, the small Central American nation has celebrated seven decades of uninterrupted democracy. While this stability has allowed Costa Rica to make great strides in alleviating poverty, however, nearly 21 percent of the country still remains impoverished. To this end, many in Costa Rica are increasingly turning to microfinance as a potential remedy.

Why Microfinance?

Microfinance is a banking service that focuses on delivering small loans to communities underserved by traditional banks. These ‘microloans’ can be as low as $100 and are specifically designed to help meet the needs of low-income families.

Because the principal of a microloan is much smaller than that of a traditional loan, lenders can afford to take on risks they otherwise could not. This means less stringent requirements on things like documentation and property, which are traditionally the largest obstacles to acquiring credit for those living in poverty. As a result, microfinance has become a favorite tool of activists in the developing world.

Costa Rica is no exception in that regard. With more than half of Costa Ricans unable to raise needed funds in an emergency, microfinanciers provide the country a crucial service.

Keeping Small Farmers and Rural Communities Afloat

One reason microfinance has been able to take off so quickly in Costa Rica lies in the country’s history. In the 1980s, a prolonged economic crisis prompted traditional banks to retreat en masse from Costa Rica’s rural areas. This left many small farmers suddenly lacking access to badly needed credit.

To help combat this issue, organizations like FINCA began seeking ways to encourage sustainability in rural financial markets. One such solution was microfinance.

Beginning in 1984, FINCA Costa Rica set about building a series of ‘village banks’ in the areas hit hardest by the loss of financial services. These were largely community-run, shared-liability ventures whose purpose would be to offer microloans to farmers. It did not take long for the model to become a success. Village banks quickly began to attract Costa Rican farmers, many of whom would have had difficulty acquiring a standard loan. In fact, the village banks would prove so popular that within a decade they had already become self-sustaining.

Others in Costa Rica soon took note of FINCA’s success. Though not all would copy the village bank model, many other microfinancing operations began to sprout up around the country.

Empowering Costa Rican Women

While FINCA’s village banks primarily served a demographic consisting of rural, male farmers, modern microfinanciers pursue a more diverse client base. Women in particular are a focus for many.

Research demonstrates a sharp gap in financial access along gender lines in Costa Rica. Thirty-nine percent of Costa Rican women lack a bank account, for instance, compared to 25 percent of men. This is a pattern that largely holds consistent across the developing world. Although in many cases women provide necessary income for their families, they often lack the means to build upon those earnings. This leaves them more vulnerable to the sudden economic shocks that can devastate a household, like personal medical emergencies and unexpected changes in consumer trends.

Microfinance institutions empower these women, however, by offering them the credit needed to start a business of their own, and by providing them with a newfound resiliency.

Thanks to the efforts of organizations like Fundación Mujer, women now own more than 22 percent of Costa Rican businesses. And, as the number of women gaining access to loans and other financial services increases, that percentage is only expected to grow. This means greater social mobility for Costa Rican women and a stronger ability to weather the storm in times of crisis.

The Future of Microfinance in Costa Rica

Microfinance in Costa Rica has come a long way from its first experiments with village banks in the 1980s. As it stands, Costa Rica is now one of the world’s largest microfinance markets. And, with the industry expected to grow by a further 5-10 percent in Latin America over the next decade, it is unlikely that will change any time soon.

While experts caution that microfinance cannot be seen as a ‘miracle cure’ for poverty, it is undeniable that it can provide real benefits to those in need. To see that, one only has to consider the success of microfinance in Costa Rica.

– James Roark

Photo: Pixabay.com

Humanitarian Aid to Costa RicaCosta Rica, a country located in Central America, has received aid from the United States due to recent natural disasters. This aid has been quite positive and has helped Costa Rica recover from hard times.

The most recent humanitarian aid to Costa Rica from the United States was a donation of $150,000 from the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance to help with storm relief on October 12, 2017. Tropical Storm Nate caused destruction in its path through Costa Rica; 11 people were killed, thousands more were injured and 11,500 people had to use shelters. Costa Rica said that this money will be used to pay for helicopter flights to distribute food, transport and medical care to those in need. This is important since Costa Rica has many remote communities, which means air travel is required to provide the necessary personnel and materials.

This is the largest donation of humanitarian aid to Costa Rica since November 2016, when the United States Southern Command provided relief. The U.S. Southern Command is “responsible for providing contingency planning, operations and security cooperation in its assigned Area of Responsibility,” and one of these Areas of Responsibility is Costa Rica. This is the fifth time that the Southern Command has provided humanitarian aid to Costa Rica.

This project was named Operation Pura Vida, which translates to “simple life” and means a lot to the people of Costa Rica, since “pura vida” is a way of life for them. The Southern Command provided 16 doctors, nurses and dentists who work with 30 Costa Rican physicians to provide free medical care to the people of Telire. Telire is a remote community in the Talamanca mountain range, so helicopters are necessary to reach this area.

Costa Rica has faced some troubling times recently, but the United States has helped use its abundant resources to help those that need it most.

– Scott Kesselring

Photo: Flickr

Development Projects in Costa RicaCosta Rica has long been a global leader due to its environmental accomplishments and is the only country in the world that has reversed deforestation. This upper-middle-income country is a developmental success in many ways and still has work to be done. Here is a look at five development projects in Costa Rica.

  1. The city of Limon is undergoing a large project which aims to modernize the port city. The Integrated Infrastructure Project aims to improve the protection and management of the cultural and natural heritage of the city. It is also working to increase access to the sewage system in order to reduce urban flooding as well as foster a more credible local government. From a business perspective, this plan hopes to create new employment opportunities and to support port modernization in order to improve access to the Limon and Moin port terminals.
  2. As mentioned earlier, Costa Rica is a global leader in environmental programs. One program with environmental impacts is the Carbon Sequestration in Small Farms which aims to reduce over 500,000 tons of CO2 emissions by the end of 2017. This would be done by reforesting 4,140 hectares of land in Costa Rica over a period of three years. This project will also create additional ecological, wildlife and landscape diversity in the project area.
  3. The Umbrella Project is another project to help reduce carbon emissions. This would be done by substituting electricity produced by thermal plants with electricity from renewable sources. This is called the Umbrella Project because it is essentially serving as an umbrella to facilitate the implementation of other smaller projects in the country.
  4. Beginning in January 2018, Costa Rica is set to begin construction and expansion of a key highway. This highway, Ruta 32, connects the provinces of Limon and San Jose. This project will also add 16 miles of bike lanes, 23 pedestrian bridges, 176 bus stops and an access road to the port city of Moin.
  5. The last of the five development projects in Costa Rica deals with the environment. The Tourism Institute of Costa Rica will be designating $3 million over the course of three years in order to enhance services in Protected Wild Areas in order to provide an unforgettable experience to visitors.

– Lorial Roballo

Photo: Pixabay

Causes of Poverty in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is known for its sunny seaside beaches and tourist attractions. It is arguably the most stable and most prosperous country out of all its Latin American neighbors. A large part of this is due to government spending. Nearly 20 percent of Costa Rica’s GDP goes toward social spending. Because of this, the Costa Rican economy has boomed. The infant mortality rate has decreased, while healthcare and sanitation have improved. But in recent years, Costa Rica’s poverty rate has stagnated at roughly 20 percent. This begs the question: what are the causes of poverty in Costa Rica? Why, despite all the government’s spending, does it still persist?

A large part of the answer is income inequality. There is extensive research showing that income inequality is correlated with higher levels of poverty. And without a doubt, income inequality is one of the main causes of poverty in Costa Rica.

Urban Costa Ricans are largely outpacing rural Costa Ricans when it comes to income. The top 20 percent of earners make an average of $4,650 per month, while the bottom twenty percent make only $360. In other words, wealthy Costa Ricans are making nearly 13 times as much money as poor Costa Ricans.

This can have dire consequences. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has found that income inequality can cause the economy to slow down. In addition, it prevents poorer people from finding high-paying jobs.

However, Costa Rica is not doomed to an eternity of inequality. The OECD shows that inequality can be reduced simply by encouraging women to join the workforce and providing better access to higher-quality jobs. Costa Rica’s government is already working hard to eradicate poverty, and the future looks bright. Income inequality may be one of the main causes of poverty in Costa Rica, but it does not have to stay that way.

Adesuwa Agbonile

Photo: Flickr

Costa Rica’s Poverty Rate
In 2016, Costa Rica was named the happiest country in the world. But, while the country as a whole has enjoyed stability and a steadily growing economy in recent years, marginalized groups have been left behind. Discussed below are key facts about Costa Rica’s poverty rate that should not be overlooked.

 

7 Leading Facts About Costa Rica’s Poverty Rate

 

  1. Costa Rica’s inequality rate has increased since 2000, a division that disproportionately affects indigenous and minority groups. Today, the country’s richest 20 percent receive an income 19 times higher than that of the poorest 20 percent.
  2. While, overall, Costa Rica’s poverty rate has dropped from 22.4 percent to 21.7 percent from 2014 to 2015, the country’s extreme poverty rate rose from 5.8 percent to 7.2 percent, the highest recorded rate in the last 60 years.
  3. While 19 percent of urban households live in poverty and 5.2 percent live in extreme poverty, 30.3 percent of rural households live in poverty and 10.6 percent in extreme poverty.
  4. Poor Costa Ricans have, on average, three years less schooling than their economically stable peers.
  5. In Costa Rica, 43.5 percent of poor households are headed by women.
  6. Since an inflation crisis in the ’80s and ’90s, the Costa Rican government has managed to boost the economy through international tourism and exports. These sectors benefit qualified workers, while unskilled workers, over-represented by indigenous and minority groups, see no change or a decrease in their salaries.
  7. Public assistance to poor families increased by 9.3 percent per household and 6.9 percent per person from 2014 to 2015.

Costa Rica’s poverty rate seems to be sewed up neatly on the surface, but the growth of a country doesn’t always reflect the growth of its people. The disparity of incomes and opportunities between uneducated people in rural areas versus educated people in urban areas threatens to rob Costa Rica of its good economic reputation.

Sophie Nunnally

Photo: Flickr

Human Rights in Costa Rica
Human rights in Costa Rica are established and protected by the country’s constitution. In the interest of protecting these rights, the Ombudsman’s Office was established to monitor complaints against government institutions and injustice. The office releases an annual report that evaluates the preservation of each constitutional right. All human rights abuses are covered in the report, along with progress being made to prevent future abuse.

According to the 2016 annual report on human rights in Costa Rica, there were four principal human rights violations. These abuses included overcrowded prisons, sexual orientation and gender identity-based discrimination, infringement on the rights of indigenous people and trafficking of persons.

Listed below are descriptions of each major human rights violation as well as the measures currently in place to minimize these abuses and protect human rights in Costa Rica.

  1. Article 40 of the Costa Rica Constitution states that “no one may be subjected to cruel or degrading treatment.” Under this article, overcrowding in prisons violates a human right. In June 2016, it was reported that prisons were 41 percent over capacity, creating poor conditions for prisoners. These included insufficient space, unsanitary surroundings and a lack of access to health services. To mitigate overcrowding and its resulting consequences, three actions were taken. The Administration permitted prisoners and detainees to file complaints to authorities or to the Ombudsman’s Office. Independent monitoring of prison conditions was permitted to human rights observers, allowing them to independently speak to prisoners and prison employees. And lastly, maintenance and minor repairs of all of Costa Rican prisons are now enforced.
  2. Costa Rica’s constitution states that “all persons are equal before the law and there shall be no discrimination.” However, in 2016, there were multiple cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity reported. The cases included discrimination involving employment, police abuse, education and access to health care services. Some of these issues stem from a lack of legislation regarding gay marriage. Costa Rica does not currently recognize gay marriage, but family courts can grant “common-law marriage.” This law grants all benefits of a traditional marriage but requires the approval of a judge. Thus, in May 2016, government employee regulations were reformed to prohibit sexual orientation and gender-based discrimination.
  3. Costa Rican law protects the reservation of property in indigenous territories. Despite this, about 38 percent of the land is taken by non-indigenous peoples. This has led to land disputes between indigenous and non-indigenous people, in which there were some reported cases of violence. In response, an executive directive was issued to establish a “consultative mechanism” with indigenous people on March 15, 2016. It was announced on April 13, 2016, that the government would lead workshops with indigenous leaders from all 24 territories.
  4. In 2016, human trafficking in Costa Rica was a critical issue, listed as Tier 3 by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The tier system ranks countries according to how well they are meeting the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s minimum standards. Costa Rica has since been raised to Tier 2, meaning that it is not meeting the minimum standards, but is making significant efforts to do so. The efforts made were comprised of disbursing funds to key government agencies and providing funds for setting up a second emergency shelter. Costa Rica also identified more victims of trafficking than in 2016 and improved public awareness campaigns. However, there are some standards not yet met. Both prosecution efforts and victim services remain insufficient for the number of victims identified. With improvements in these areas, there is hope that Costa Rica will move from Tier 2 to Tier 1 by 2018.

Costa Rica is among many other constitutional republics that still has room for improvement. Although human rights in Costa Rica seem well-established, abuses of these rights show the importance of continual effort to improve governmental systems.

Haley Hurtt

Photo: Google

Costa Rica’s tropical weather and lush scenery attract many tourists from all around the globe. Last year, the country broke its record for tourists by reaching just shy of three million arrivals. However, that same equatorial climate also brings still water and multiple mosquito-borne illnesses. Below are some of the most common diseases in Costa Rica.

  1. Malaria
    Malaria is a disease spread by the parasites living in certain mosquitoes. The initial symptoms — chills, headaches and fever — typically take around 10-15 days to make themselves apparent. Even though it can be life-threatening if left untreated, it is both preventable and curable. Chloroquine is a popular prescription for it in Costa Rica.
  2. Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Virus
    Two more common diseases in Costa Rica are dengue fever and chikungunya virus. During 2016’s first five weeks, these infections skyrocketed 600 percent from the same time the preceding year. They are both transferred via mosquito bites and share a few symptoms: headaches, joint and muscle pain and rashes. Fortunately, dengue and chikungunya are rarely fatal.
  3. Zika
    Zika, another mosquito-borne illness, can be found in Costa Rica. Once someone is infected, they are also at risk of spreading the disease through sex. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend either using condoms or avoiding sexual contact with an infected individual. Additionally, not everyone who has Zika gets sick. This is a problem especially for pregnant women, as they may not know they are infected and can pass the disease along to their child which would result in serious birth defects.As of now, the CDC states that Zika has no vaccine or medicine. However, it recommends staying above 6,500 feet (where Zika-carrying mosquitoes are unlikely to be found due to unfavorable environmental conditions) and has a guide for preventing mosquito bites altogether.
  4. Chagas Disease
    Chagas disease is spread via parasites in the Reduviid bug and mostly affects people living in rural Costa Rica. One of the methods of infections is particularly repulsive. While the bug bites someone, it defecates on them. The parasites rely on the person to swat the bug as this will grind the feces into the new bite wound.According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms — loss of appetite, fatigue, eyelid swelling, nausea and others — are typically mild and may not even occur until the disease reaches the chronic stage. Current treatments for Chagas disease focus on eliminating the parasite, but these medications won’t work if the disease becomes chronic.
  5. Leptospirosis
    Lastly, there is leptospirosis. It is a bacterial disease spread through the infected urine of animals. People with scrapes or open wounds who come into contact with contaminated water are at risk. The symptoms can be mistaken for a multitude of other diseases and take anywhere from two days to four weeks to surface.However, prevention is fairly easy. Avoiding contact with water that may be infected (including puddles) and wearing protective clothing when engaging in water sports greatly reduce the chances of infection.

While some of the most common diseases in Costa Rica may not have cures as of now, prevention is key. There are many resources widely available to help locals and tourists alike maintain their health in a climate that can foster such illnesses.

Jada Haynes

Photo: Flickr


With a small cost of living and a luxurious lifestyle to offer, Costa Rica is an ideal location for retirement, particularly for Americans. Not only is the scenery breathtaking, but the cost of living in Costa Rica is even more alluring.

Surprisingly enough, day-to-day living costs are much more affordable in Costa Rica than in both the U.S. and the U.K. At the end of 2016, the minimum monthly required income for a single person in Costa Rica was $1,500 to $2,000. A majority of retired couples succeed on as little as $2,000 to $3,000 per month.

Medicare costs in Costa Rica are very affordable. Most consider the medical care to be of exceptionally good quality, yet it comes at a low monthly cost that includes free services.

The monthly cost to rent a lavish condo in Costa Rica is a mere $500 to $900 dollars. In many other countries as well as most of the U.S., this amount will hardly cover a basic, low-quality apartment.

As far as services go, the cost of electricity is around $200 per month, high-speed internet lands at a small amount of $25 per month and there is a $200 monthly fee for hiring a full-time maid if a resident desires to have one.

Food costs are astoundingly low as well, with a dozen bananas costing a mere $0.42. Fresh bread loaves cost about $1.25, and a pound of tomatoes is only $0.35. For Americans, this amounts to a 45% savings for the average amount of purchased groceries.

The low cost of living in Costa Rica combined with the beautiful landscapes and relaxing beaches is enough to make it the perfect place to live or retire. In fact, Costa Rica often gets mentioned on lists of best places to retire for this very reason. Those who are looking to move and have no ties to their place of origin will find Costa Rica to be a very affordable and appealing option.

Noel Mcdavid

Photo: Flickr


Only four percent of Costa Rica’s water has been treated so far in 2017, and many of its residents lack access to sanitation areas. However, efforts are being made to enhance the country’s wastewater and sewerage systems. Past projects focused more on water supply than on sanitation. The following organizations and initiatives are working to improve water quality in Costa Rica.

6 Efforts to Improve Water Quality in Costa Rica

  1. The Development Bank of Latin America predicts that the U.S. will spend $33 billion on water sanitation and $80 billion on sewage infrastructure between 2010 and 2030. While the monetary investments are large ones, they are necessary in order to increase the country’s water sanitation over the next decade. With this level of funding, Costa Rica could benefit from a 50 percent improvement in its water quality.
  2. The World Bank continues investments in wastewater treatment for countries such as Costa Rica. By providing much-needed guidance and promoting integrated approaches to pollution control, the World Bank could significantly improve the country’s water quality. Costa Rica established its first national policy on sanitary wastewater this year, along with a plan to spend $520 million in infrastructure and provide environmental and public health services.
  3. AyA (Acueductos y Alcantarillados), Costa Rica’s public water and sewerage utility, is taking action to fulfill the PNSAR’s (Política Nacional en Saneamiento de las Aguas Residuales’) established goals, one of which is the U.S.’s $345 million environmental improvement program for San José, Costa Rica’s capital city. The program was launched in 2015, and San José’s sewage network is already expanding. PNSAR will focus on building water treatment institutions, procedures for wastewater management and financial sustainability.
  4. Los Tajos is a planned wastewater treatment plant designed by ACCIONA Agua and AyA intended to alleviate pollution in the country’s Tiribí, María Aguilar and Torres rivers. It will serve over a million people, 65 percent of San José’s population. Phase one of the project involves rehabilitating and extending the sewerage network over 360 kilometers, and phase two focuses on cleaning the basin from the Tárcoles River and reducing pollution in San José’s aquifers. It will be the country’s largest wastewater treatment plant when completed.
  5. The Costa Rica-U.S. Foundation, along with various other institutions, undertook a project that would help several aqueducts in the country’s Central Pacific region to function through solar energy. With the panels expected to save residents up to 50 percent in electrical costs, the leftover funding could provide means to increase water quality in Costa Rica. Virginia Reyes, the project’s coordinator, says water in dry areas is necessary for attracting tourists and commercial activities.
  6. In October 2015, the Latin American Water Funds Partnership launched Agua Tica, Costa Rica’s first water fund specifically designed to benefit the country’s millions of residents whose water supply comes from the polluted rivers of the Río Grande de Tárcoles. Agua Tica will invest in regenerating soils, restoring degraded areas and other strategies to improve water quality in Costa Rica. Edgar Gutierrez, the Minister of Environment and Energy, calls the water fund a “sign” of how Costa Rica’s citizens can work together in ensuring their resources.

Much of Costa Rica’s water supply is in need of sanitation, but notable efforts are being made. Time and money will determine the quality of improvements, but organizations and constituents will continue to invest in bettering water quality in Costa Rica. If the efforts prove successful, all of Costa Rica’s residents may gain access to clean, healthy water.

Rhondjé Singh Tanwar

Photo: Flickr

Costa Rica _Poverty
The end of 2016 signaled positive signs for Costa Rica as its poverty rate registered at the lowest rate in seven years, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Censuses.

Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination, drawing more than 2.6 million visitors in 2015, but many visitors are surprised to see the heavily impoverished areas around the country. While the nation has reduced its homicide rates and experienced moderate economic growth, the poverty rate climbed to a four-year high of 20 percent in 2014, it is still suffering from deep wealth disparity. The inflation rate in Costa Rica is relatively low, but it disproportionally impacts the poorest in the country.

Costa Rica has one of the highest-rated education systems in Latin America, and it ranks higher than its neighbors in both social capital and health. However, despite these positive gains, the poverty rate remained a challenge. In 2015, the nation launched the National Strategy for the Reduction of Poverty from the Bridge to Development.

Developed with the cooperation of eight different public agencies and social aid programs, the Bridge to Development aims to reduce poverty and emphasize human rights; its goals included linking social institutions and combining the various social welfare programs into one cohesive unit. Prior to this system, aid was scattered among 30 different programs creating both confusion and overlap of the programming money. By consolidating into one program, the target was to reduce the uncertainty and prevent fraud.

In addition, Costa Rica’s economic growth is creating more opportunities to escape poverty; increased economic activity and an uptick in goods and services have generated more jobs and reduced the unemployment rate. The combination of this growth and social policies is a positive development for the country.

In 2016, more than 10,000 households rose above the poverty line, and the poverty level declined by 1.2%. Another 10,000 households were able to move out of the category of extreme poverty. The results are promising, and the country is committed to building on those returns going forward.

Costa Rican officials are proud of the gains that have been made; by steadily lowering the poverty rate, they hope to reinforce the nations’ reputation as one of the best-developed nations in Latin America. However, the nation still has work to do in order to reach its goals of social inclusion and enhanced human rights, but it is a hopeful success story as 2017 begins.

Jennifer Graham

Photo: Flickr