Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 124 | Noviembre 1991



Just the Facts A Poor Country, Part II*

Envío team

There are five indicators of unmet basic needs: inadequate housing, overcrowding, insufficient services, low education levels and high economic dependence. The following data demonstrate the level of unmet basic needs in Nicaragua.

INADEQUATE HOUSING (defined as having a dirt floor and/or walls made of discarded materials).
1985: 43.1% of urban homes in a "state of poverty"; a national deficit of 266,100 units. Demand grows by 20,000 families/year due to 3.3% population growth.
1989: 45.8% of urban homes in a "state of poverty"; an additional 54,515 units destroyed in Hurricane Joan in October 1988.
1990: National housing deficit estimated at 420,600. Due to rural-to-urban migration, the urban population is now 59.8% of total; 136 squatter settlements spring up in Managua, housing 126,400 people.

OVERCROWDING (defined as four or more people per room)
1985: At least 25% of houses in Managua and 34.4% nationally are critically overcrowded, in part due to high population growth (48.4% of the population is under 16 years old and 34.6% is under 10). 55% of urban houses have only one room, as do 67% of rural houses. Approximately 47% lack drinking water or plumbing.

INSUFFICIENT SERVICES (defined as lacking hygienic services, sewage, drinking water, etc.).

Water Supply: Nicaragua has 149.2 cubic meter capacity, but only 1.2% is utilized, of which 4.8% is for drinking water—scheduled to slightly more than double by 1990.
Urban Infrastructure: 148 municipal aqueducts, 361 wells or filtration systems and 30 superficial catchments; 90% are pump-driven aqueducts and 10% gravity-driven. In 141, water is not treated; in 49, production is always insufficient for demand; in 23, it is only insufficient during the dry season.
Rural: 630 waterworks nationally, many at the end of their useful life, requiring costly and complex operation and maintenance impossible for country.

Water Treatment: Water is contaminated by sewage and industrial, agricultural and mining waste, which has contaminated 38 rivers, 2 lakes and 6 lagoons, as well as some coastal shoreline areas.
1980: 62% of water supply treated.
1989: only 59% of water supply treated; quality of water in 38 aqueducts is problematic and in another 38 is too contaminated for human consumption.
Population served: 1985: 47.3% of national population lacks access to basic drinking water or sewage services. Service nationally grew from 39% in 1980 to 53% in 1989.

Distribution of Water Services: 1980-89: Services grew from 67% to 78%. In 1989 an estimated 1.7 million urban dwellers have water service; 980,000 only partially or inadequately. In 6 major population centers and 65 medium-sized Managua areas, water must be rationed, mainly but not only in dry season.
Population with water service by area: 843 per 1,000 in Pacific, 691 per 1,000 in central and 153 per 1,000 in the Atlantic Coast.
Rural breakdown: 1980-89: Service grew from 5.8% to 19.5%.
Area breakdown: 206 per 1,000 in Pacific, 176 per 1,000 in central and 85 per 1,000 in Atlantic.

Sewage System: Only 20 aqueducts in main cities have corresponding sewage collection networks. They cover 31% of total urban population but range from 6-87% in given areas due to obstruction problems. Only 8 have sewage treatment units (stabilization ponds); the rest empty untreated into lakes, rivers, etc. 14 of 20 (7 with treatment systems) are in the Pacific and 6 (1 with treatment) are in central area.

Garbage Collection: Only 45% of 1,000 tons generated nationally is collected (of 55% not collected, 82% is generated by population not served at all and other 18% by served population). Only 56% of nation's municipalities have regular garbage collection and none have any treatment, recovery or recycling methods. Of garbage dumps investigated in 43 locales, 87% are unauthorized; 64% are within urban perimeters; 64% have insufficient dumping capacity; in 93%, garbage is dumped and left in open air; in only 19.3% is garbage incinerated. In Managua, 95 of 200 illegal dumps in 1990 were legalized in 1991.


Enrollment: 1985: 18.8% of school-age population did not attend any education center. Preschool: Attendance went from 9,000 in 1978 to 72,569 in 1986 and 81,560 in 1988, still representing only 10% of children in the appropriate age bracket. Special Education (psychic-physical disorders): Attendance went from 250 children in 1978 to 1,430 in 1980, 2,157 in 1986 and nearly 3,000 in 1989, still covering only 0.6% of those in need. Primary School: In 1975 only 65% of those in age group attended; in 1983 this reached 80% and in 1989 dropped to 76% (79% in urban zones and 69% in rural zones). Since 24% remain outside of the system, this contributes to over-age students.

Drop-outs: In the period 1980-87, only 232 of every 1,000 male students and 298 of every 1,000 female students entering first grade made it to the 6th grade.

Repetition: 54.28% of urban students and 70.24% of rural students are over-age.

Illiteracy: estimated 1991 illiteracy 25.1% nationally (531,511 people over 10 years old), a 24.6% growth since the 1980 Literacy Crusade, when it dropped from over 50% to 12.6%. Of those, 29.2% are urban and 70.8% rural. The illiteracy level of those over 51 years of age is 21.1%, over five times higher than those between 10 and 20 years old (4.5%). A 1989 study of 6,062 cases in urban Managua showed that those with lowest incomes had also not completed primary school. The problem is undoubtedly even worse now given the acute economic crisis of 1989-90, since 59% can barely cover their basic needs.

HIGH ECONOMIC DEPENDENCY (defined as houses in which more than two people do remunerated work and the head of household has not completed primary school). 1989: 57% of the members of poor homes are jobless; those who work generally earn very low wages.

Per-capita Gross Domestic Product: 1980-1990: declined 42.64%; in 1990 it equaled $430.6, comparable to 1945. By 1985, 85.9% of rural population and 54.8% of urban could not satisfy their most elemental needs.

Employment: 1980-1990: The Economically Active Population (EAP) openly unemployed or underemployed climbed from 32% (356,000 members) to 46% (540,000 members). This means less income in homes and worsening poverty levels.

Salaries. By 1990, the purchasing power of wages nationally had shrunk to 12.55% of 1980 levels, and was worst in rural areas.

Consumption levels. Apparent per-capita protein consumption dropped below minimum levels recommended by the National Food Program (PAN) in 1987; calorie consumption did in 1988. In 1989, per-capital daily consumption was 44 and 1,523.5 respectively (minimums are 50 and 1,850). Only 18% of urban households surveyed had enough income (including non-salary contributions) to buy PAN's minimum market basket: 9% said they bought more than half, 28% bought half and 45% bought less than half; most of these households were in the minimum-wage bracket.

Nutritional Effects on Children: Of the 36% of the population under 10 years of age, 75% live in homes typified as "poor." This seriously compromises the nutritional development of the future EAP.
1986: Height-measure census of children between 6 and 9 years old in first grade in 4 regions (III, IV, V, VI) showed that 22% were malnourished—17% moderately and 5% severely. 1988: A Region III (Managua) study by the Health Research and Study Center showed that 11% of urban and 15.6% of rural children under 5 years old suffered acute malnutrition (between 1 and 2 deviations from the standard measure) and 49% of urban and 62% of rural children were "at risk" (1 deviation).
1990: In first half of year, the Ministry of Health's Nutritional Surveillance Department found 18.5% of children under 6 years old attending health services in areas where a health system exists to be malnourished.

Infant Mortality. Such malnutrition levels obviously increase infant mortality. In 1985, infant mortality was 63 of every 1,000 live births; in 1986, 61.4; and in 1989, 71.8, according to data from the National Statistics Institute and the Ministry of Health. Today's generally deteriorated living conditions and greater resource restrictions continue increasing the risk of infant mortality.

Illness and Death. Women and children in rural and marginal urban areas are at greatest risk. 1974: Rural deaths (105 per 1,000) exceed national average by 28% (82 per 1,000 in urban areas). 1983: Rural deaths (80 per 1,000) exceed national average by 14% (70 per 1,000 in urban areas). It is expected that the rural-urban gap has grown again in recent years due to increased national poverty, particularly in the countryside.

* Data taken from Nicaragua: País Pobre, a 1991 envío Writers Contest entry by Oscar René Vargas, which received honorable mention. Part I appeared in envío, Vol. 10, No. 123, October 1991.

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