Nicaragua, the “land of lakes and volcanoes,” is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.
In addition to wars and rebellions, dictators and widespread poverty, natural disasters have led to the destruction of the capital city of Managua twice in the last century. In 1998, Hurricane Mitch ravaged the country and more than 750,000 people lost their homes or possessions. Estimated at $1 billion, the damage further weakened an already dwindling economy. The drought of 2001 caused additional hardship to the people of Nicaragua, damaging most of their crops and setting back the economy.
According to the World Bank, approximately 50 percent of the population live in poverty and 19 percent live in extreme poverty. Almost half of the population lacks access to safe water, illiteracy is still high, and there is a whole generation that was unable to attend school or saw its education interrupted by the war. Half of Nicaragua’s population is now living below poverty line. The leading causes of death among children under a year old are intestinal infectious diseases and malnutrition.
The Pacific coast of Nicaragua was settled as a Spanish colony from Panama in the early 16th century. Independence from Spain was declared in 1821 and the country became an independent republic in 1838. Britain occupied the Caribbean Coast in the first half of the 19th century, but gradually ceded control of the region in subsequent decades. Violent opposition to governmental manipulation and corruption spread to all classes by 1978 and resulted in a short-lived civil war that brought the Marxist Sandinista guerrillas to power in 1979. Nicaraguan aid to leftist rebels in El Salvador caused the US to sponsor anti-Sandinista contra guerrillas through much of the 1980s. Free elections in 1990, 1996, and 2001, saw the Sandinistas defeated, but voting in 2006 announced the return of former Sandinista President Daniel ORTEGA Saavedra. Nicaragua's infrastructure and economy - hard hit by the earlier civil war and by Hurricane Mitch in 1998 - are slowly being rebuilt.