While Nicaragua is known as the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes,” and is the Central American nation with the largest supply of freshwater, ironically most Nicaraguans, particularly in rural areas, lack access to safe drinking water.
Years of limited public investment, deforestation, soil erosion, cattle ranching, damage from powerful tropical storms and contamination from unregulated mining and agricultural activities have all had an adverse impact on people’s access to safe water supplies.
Without ready access to medicines and adequate medical attention, the need for preventive care via safe water and sanitation is all the more necessary.
Established in 2011, WaterAid's program focuses on the isolated north Caribbean region that forms part of what is often referred to in 20th century literature and film as the Miskito Coast. Home to many indigenous peoples, it is largely cut off from the rest of the country by raging rivers, rainforests, and extremely difficult road conditions and is one of the most deprived parts of Nicaragua.
While the landscape in this region is dominated by rivers, lagoons and coastal floodplains, the vast majority of the population there - 80% of people - do not have access to safe drinking water or toilets. Similarly, 80% of schools lack safe water, toilets and adequate hygiene for their students and teachers.
“The living conditions here (on the North Atlantic Coast) are extremely difficult” described Joshua Briemberg, WaterAid Nicaragua's Country Representative. “The indigenous and rural population lack access to adequate basic healthcare services in addition to lacking access to quality and relevant education. Without ready access to medicines and adequate medical attention, the need for preventive care via safe water, basic sanitation and hygiene education is all the more necessary.”
A WaterAid rope pump in the RAAN region of Nicaragua.
WaterAid is working in partnership with local organizations and municipal water service providers to help poor communities and schools set up clean water supplies. We use sustainable technologies, such as rainwater catchment systems, the rope and washer pump (bomba de mecate) and clay pot household water filters, that can be maintained by community-based water associations.
Community sanitation promoters trained by WaterAid installing an eco-friendly pour flush toilet system.
All WaterAid programs integrate safe water provision with good sanitation. It is important local communities fully understand the critical role the safe use of toilets plays in reducing the spread of deadly diarrheal diseases such as cholera and typhoid. We are using a community-based sanitation approach to achieve open-defecation free status in communities.
The approach involves raising awareness of how diseases are spread, and motivating communities to develop their own solutions to ensuring every single household builds and uses a toilet. Local solutions are generally based on the development of a local market that provides services to meet the increased demand for toilets.
WaterAid is helping families to build pour-flush toilets inside their homes.
Sanitation options we promote include pour-flush toilets combined with septic tanks and infiltration fields (ecological sanitation). These toilets not only improve health, dignity, safety for young children and ease of access for disabled people, but also provide much needed nutrients to the soil which can can be used for patio gardens of food staples such as bananas and fruit trees.
As the Caribbean region is subject to heavy flooding and tropical storms, we are working to maximize the resilience of new water and sanitation facilities to these natural hazards.
As well as water and sanitation, WaterAid works with local people to develop culturally appropriate ways of promoting improved hygiene practices such as regular hand-washing and safe water handling, particularly in schools and village health posts.
For more information read our interview with Joshua Briemberg. WaterAid is seeking funding for the Nicaragua program. For more information on how you can support our workplease call (212) 683-0430 or email us