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Nicaragua: Women On The Frontline In The Fight Against Hunger

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Nicaragua is the second poorest country in Latin America, where WFP has worked with governments for 40 years to reduce hunger and undernutrition. Nicaragua is also the fourth country most affected by natural disasters between 1990 and 2010. When disasters occur, and hunger and epidemics constantly strike the population, women, children, the elderly and the ill are the most vulnerable.

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Because Nicaragua has shores on both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, it is vulnerable to hurricanes. In fact there is a risk of natural disaster every year during the hurricane season. Nicaraguan women are an essential part of mitigation efforts and the response to natural disasters. In food assistance programmes, women receive the food directly to guarantee their families nutrition.

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Drought is the most recurrent phenomenon in the north and west of the country. In the “dry corridor” drinkable water is scarce, limiting the farming on family and community orchards. The lack or irregularity of rain affects subsistence farmers. Through “water harvesting”—techniques for soil and water conservation--, and water collection and drip irrigation systems, families deal with the drought. Women, who are heads of households in large proportions, get training about ways to implement these practices that benefit their families.

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The world economy has also caused internal crises in Nicaragua that affect the food and nutritional security of the poorest families. The constant fluctuations in the price of coffee, the main agro-exporting product, and coffee diseases, such as fungal rust, have caused salary reductions and job losses, impacting drastically in the health and nutrition, especially of women and children. Prevention plans and social programmes to protect the families have been implemented with the support of the WFP.

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One of the phenomena that had the greatest impact in the households of the Miskitas and Mayaganas indigenous communities, in the northern zone, bordering Honduras, was a sudden plague of rats, which ruined crops and overran the houses of these towns in hard-to-reach areas. Without food for their families, the women placed themselves in the frontline and joined a WFP airlift to provide food and the resources to control the plague, in cooperation with the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.

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Migration is another social phenomenon seen in Nicaragua in the past few years. In the “dry corridor” men and women migrate to neighboring countries to work in agricultural fields. Migration has led to new crises for those who are left behind: The loss of family unity, children being raised by their grandparents or relatives, severed family ties, school drop-outs, and an uncertain future and economic deprivation, among others. WFP’s strategy is to support families with development programmes so that parents take part in productive activities that generate food and income, and rule out migration as an option.

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The elderly and people with disabilities face greater risks and need special assistance during emergencies. They also need special nutritional and healthcare assistance. The issue of prioritizing the attention of these social groups, together with women and children, during emergency interventions was included in the agenda of a recent training about “Nutrition and Health in Emergency Situations” given to local officials from different municipalities.

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Female leadership is fundamental for the prevention and response to natural disasters. In El Cedro, in the mountains at the north of Nicaragua, women placed their humble homes to the authorities’ disposal for the storage of food and took the responsibility of distributing rations to every family as a way to help in the response to the affected population. The commitment and attention of these women to their communities was a noble labor.

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The Nicaraguan woman is entrepreneurial and dynamic. They are mothers, daughters and wives on the frontline in the fight against hunger and poverty. “They are not easily discouraged, even when they face tough crises in their families or communities. They are tireless workers and manage very well their food and homes. They are WFP’s best partners to guarantee that the foods are being consumed in the home, that children go to school and that they themselves and their children receive medical attention when they are pregnant and after birth. They are the axis of food security in their homes”, said WFP Representative Helmut W. Rauch on the eve of International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8.

Nicaragua is known as the land of lakes and volcanoes, where rivers are made of milk and the stones of cheese. It is located at the center of America and its population is a combination of mestizos, whites, African descendants and various ethnic groups such as Miskitos, Mayagnas and Ramas. This photo gallery takes a tour through the impact of natural phenomena on Nicaraguan women and their families, but also on the strength and leadership to succeed amid recurring crises.