People, Social Issues
Sandinista revolution, Sandinista government, cities health, contra war, dirt floors
Nicaragua suffers from serious social problems, worsened by warfare and economic crises in the 1980s. Some 50.30 percent of Nicaraguans live in poverty, with the percentage highest in rural areas. In the eastern lowlands poverty levels exceed 90 percent. Unemployment and underemployment are estimated as high as 50 percent, although official figures are lower.
Poverty and unemployment contribute to widespread housing shortages, malnutrition, and poor health care. Tropical diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, which were rare in the 1970s, have become common. Especially in Managua, the urban poor live in extensive slums, sometimes in houses made of cardboard with dirt floors. Many of the nationís households do not have access to clean drinking water or plumbing. Urban residents typically receive better services than do those in rural areas, yet even in the cities health and education facilities, water supplies, and sanitation are often inadequate. The Sandinista government made progress in improving health care and education, especially for the poor and rural areas. But conditions declined again as economic problems and the contra war diverted resources from social programs. Crime, including kidnapping, has increased rapidly in the 1990s.
Nicaraguan society has deep class divisions, which contributed to the Sandinistasí takeover of power in 1979. At that time, about one-fifth of the population was upper or middle class, and this small portion of the population received 60 percent of the nationís income and owned much of the best land. The Sandinista revolution tried to restructure society by taking wealth and land from the upper classes and distributing it to the poor or keeping it under government control. By emphasizing class divisions, the Sandinistas created the first effective, mass-based political forces in Nicaragua. Economic and political turmoil through the 1980s and 1990s make it difficult to determine how the class structure has changed, but Sandinista support is strong among the urban poor, while the middle class and much of the rural peasant population support other parties.
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