Water For People

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The largest country in Central America, Nicaragua is bordered by Costa Rica and Honduras. It is a country of great biodiversity, known to many as the “Land of Lakes and Volcanoes.” It is a primarily agrarian society where many people live off cash crops, such as coffee and tobacco, or subsistence farming. Nicaragua is considered the poorest country in Central America as almost half of the population lives below the national poverty line.

According to the most recent Joint Monitoring Program Report by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, 85% of people in Nicaragua have access to improved water sources and 52% have improved sanitation facilities. However, there is a large disparity between rural and urban areas: in rural areas only 68% of people have access to safe drinking water and 37% have improved sanitation. Based on this need, Water For People–Nicaragua is focusing its efforts on rural and remote communities, schools, and health clinics.

In 2008, Water For People’s Board of Directors voted to expand programming into Nicaragua. Building on successful programs in neighboring Honduras, Water For People initially worked in alliance with the nongovernment organization (NGO) El Porvenir in the municipality of Wiwilí. In 2010, Water For People–Nicaragua received legal status as an NGO and in 2011 hired a country director and staff to lead the program. In 2011 and 2012, it continued to collaborate on projects while also building relationships and initiating its first water and sanitation programming in the municipalities of San Rafael del Norte and La Concordia in the department of Jinotega. In 2013, Water For People–Nicaragua focused its efforts exclusively in San Rafael del Norte and La Concordia.


Rural access to improved water:
Rural access to improved sanitation:
Spanish, Miskito
Per capita income:
Life expectancy (M/F):
Under-five mortality rate:
4/1,000 live births
Rural access to improved water:

Source: World Health Organization


San Rafael del Norte is in a municipality in the Department of Jinotega, which is one of only four departments or regions in the country that was classified as having “severe” poverty by the national government. San Rafael del Norte covers 92 square miles, and approximately 17,789 people reside in its 48 small, rural communities and the town of the same name. Most residents practice subsistence agriculture, raising beans and corn on small farms.

La Concordia is also in the Department of Jinotega and covers 59 square miles. There are approximately 6,486 people who reside in its 36 small, rural communities and town of the same name. Most residents practice subsistence agriculture, raising beans and corn on small farms. Others produce coffee or raise animals for sale and consumption.


In Nicaragua, as in many countries in Latin America, Water For People’s key partners are the municipal governments of the districts where we work: the Municipality of San Rafael del Norte and the Municipality of La Concordia. Water For People–Nicaragua is also building partnerships and alliances with the national Ministries of Health and Education and the Nicaraguan Company of Aqueducts and Sewers (ENACAL), as well as other NGOs operating within the country. Water For People–Nicaragua also participates in the Water and Sanitation Network of Nicaragua (RASNIC).

Current Work

Water For People–Nicaragua continues to facilitate water, sanitation, and hygiene education programming to build toward full coverage in the municipalities of La Concordia and San Rafael del Norte. Programming is planned to take place in three communities and three schools in San Rafael del Norte, and three communities and one school in La Concordia.

Water For People–Nicaragua will also further explore the possibilities of sustainable sanitation in Nicaragua through promoting ecological sanitation, raising awareness in communities, and at the municipal level reducing subsidies for toilet construction in order to promote more sustainable market-based sanitation solutions. Water For People–Nicaragua may also experiment with the concept of promoting the construction of indoor (attached to house) bathrooms through families acquiring loans from credit institutions.


The majority of schools in Nicaragua do not have potable water or adequate toilet facilities, so many students drink contaminated water in schools or lack sufficient quantities of water for drinking. Hand washing before the school lunch and after using toilets, if there are any, cannot be practiced. Most schools do not meet the minimum government standards and lack child-friendly facilities. Lack of adequate facilities causes numerous health hazards among adolescent girls and women. The lost opportunity of providing adequate school water, sanitation, and hygiene conditions and training in schools affects entire communities over the long term.

Water For People–Nicaragua, together with municipal government partners, works to strengthen community water committees.

Building upon learning the very strong SWASH+ programs that Water For People has implemented in Honduras and Guatemala, Water For People–Nicaragua will implement programming to improve school water, sanitation, and hygiene. Parent-teacher associations are trained to maintain the infrastructure, and teachers are trained to lead the hygiene education process, which increases the probability of replication in schools in future years.

The elimination of the rural aqueducts department of the national water agency in 2007 left rural Nicaraguan communities without any support for management of their potable water systems. In rural areas of Nicaragua most water systems are managed by community water committees (CAPs). CAPs gained legal status in Nicaragua in 2010, which among other things, allowed them to begin to legally charge tariffs, be exempt from taxes, open bank accounts, contract services, and obtain land titles of water sources and system infrastructure sites. Unfortunately, however, most systems today do not provide an adequate level of service, or they do not connect all households.

Strengthened CAPs are vital to improving the administration, operation, and maintenance of water systems in rural Nicaragua, so Water For People–Nicaragua, together with municipal government partners, will dedicate significant time and resources to strengthening them. CAPs will be trained on topics such as tariff calculation and collection, administration, regulation, water quality and treatment, watershed protection, gender equity, and system operation, maintenance, and monitoring. Water For People–Nicaragua will also promote the formation of associations of municipalities to provide additional support for CAPs.

Not so many decades ago, San Rafael and La Concordia were covered with impressive forests, but over time they have slowly been disappearing because of unsustainable forestry activities and deforestation for agricultural activities. This development, along with other factors, including climate change, has resulted in a reduction of water production at springs in the area.

Water For People–Nicaragua and municipal government officials are investigating protection and conservation measures and developing a comprehensive Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM) strategy. This will ensure sustainability of water resources, and their availability for consumption and domestic use, agricultural production, and the natural environment for generations to come. Community water and sanitation committees are being trained to legally and physically protect recharge zones of water sources, including natural regeneration, reforestation, and other best practices to promote infiltration of rainwater.


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