Since April, Nicaragua has seen widespread civil anti-government unrest and violence, with tragic consequences for society and the country as a whole. Many other NGOs have decided to pull out of the country due to safety reasons, and while the situation has implications for Just a Drop, it has made our project work in Nicaragua increasingly more important says Bella Mytton-Mills, Just a Drop's Programmes Coordinator.

Over the last few years, Just a Drop has supported over 1,000 Nicaraguans in the marginalised, remote communities of El Sauce, Waslala and Camoapa with safe water and sanitation, through a partnership with El Porvenir. El Porvenir’s way of working - without political or religious bias - has meant that the staff, all Nicaraguans themselves, have earned the respect and support of the local communities where we work. This allows us to keep our project work going during the current crisis.

Despite a history of dictatorship and civil war, Nicaragua had until recent events become one of the safest countries in Central America. Growing number of tourists visited the country for its dramatic terrain of lakes, volcanoes and beaches.  However, Nicaragua remains one of the poorest countries in Latin America, with 42% of the population living below the poverty line. Nearly a million people don’t have access to safe water and 1.3 million don’t have access to adequate sanitation. Nicaragua’s infrastructure remains poorly developed, and the country is prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, underlining the importance of our work here. 

In April, a nationwide revolt against President Daniel Ortega led the country into crisis, with over 300 lives lost and thousands injured since the protests began. Demonstrations began in April by university students in Managua after the government failed to handle forest fires in one of the most protected areas of the Indio Maiz Biological Reserve. Two days later, the government introduced plans to cut pensions and social security, including decreasing pension payments by 5% and increasing worker social contributions by 0.75%. The change also increased employer contributions by 3.5%. Due to the heavy-handed tactics used by the government to curb the demonstrations, tens of thousands of people continued to protest, demanding President Ortega's resignation.

The government and police force have responded to many of the peaceful protests with violence, which has been condemned by the United Nations. António Guterres, UN Secretary-General, stated on 16 July: “it is essential that violence must stop immediately and that the political dialogue, the national dialogue, be revitalized’’. Guterres said he was “not a supporter of simplistic analysis of complex problems, but there is one thing that is obvious: there is a death toll that is shocking due to the use of force on the part of entities linked to the State, that is not acceptable.” (The UN)

Throughout this period of unrest, Just a Drop’s in-country implementing partner, El Porvenir, has worked extremely hard to keep our projects running in areas they are able to reach and work in safely. They have responded to the unfolding situation by putting extra security procedures in place to ensure staff safety. Staff now avoid all areas without mobile phone coverage, keep their phones charged at all times, no longer travel after dark, and inform co-workers of where they are going and the time they expect to return.

Since April, roadblocks have been put in place across an estimated 70% of Nicaraguan roads, causing long delays and hindering the movement of teams and the delivery of supplies. However, our work to provide safe water to communities has been able to continue, thanks to the respect and support El Porvenir gained among the communities we work with. While some of our projects have been put on hold, we have continued much of our work and have recently completed projects in El Sauce and Camoapa, providing two communities with access to safe water.

Our strong partnership with El Porvenir has proved the key to continuing our work in Nicaragua during these circumstances. The need for access to water and sanitation doesn’t reduce in a time like this, rather it grows. Our work and support for communities in Nicaragua will continue, and we hope that a peaceful resolution to the crisis is found soon.

-  Bella Mytton-Mills, Just a Drop Programmes Coordinator, 27 July 2018.

Find out more about our work in Nicaragua here: https://www.justadrop.org/nicaragua