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Nicaragua: WFP takes to river to reach remotest hunger spots

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Nicaragua's Coco River is a lifeline for the impoverished Miskito Indians who live along its shores - and the only way WFP can deliver food aid to a population still recovering from the deadly 2007 Hurricane Felix.

By Sabrina Quezada

MANAGUA - The 680-kilometre Coco River that snakes from Honduras through Nicaragua's northern mountain range and pours into the Caribbean Sea is a lifeline for the indigenous Miskito groups who live along its shores -- and the only way the World Food Programme can deliver critical food aid during natural disasters.

The latest shipment arrived in June, when WFP's logistics team sailed down the Coco with 600 metric tons (MT) of food for 100 Miskito communities located in an inaccessible area of eastern Nicaragua.

Boats greeted with joy

The villagers, who are still recovering from 2007's deadly Hurricane Felix, greeted the arrival of 50 WFP boats with joy. Hungry women, men and children cheered the sight of the six-metre-long vessels, each able to carry about two tons of food.

The hurricane added to a mountain of misery already plaguing the Miskitos, descendents of indigenous, African and European populations and some of Nicaragua's poorest people. Over the past decade, they have been hit by droughts, floods, hurricanes and rat infestations - the latter caused by forest fires.

Chronic malnutrition

Daily life is a struggle. Miskito villages have no electricity or running water - and no roads to link them to the outside world. Roughly 80 percent of the population has no formal job; most are subsistence farmers. More than a third of Miskito children suffer from chronic undernutrition.

Now, with heavy rains unleashing new floods, the Miskitos are again bracing for hard times. There have been small earthquakes in areas that have never experienced them. Still the communities along the Coco hold out hope that this year's rains will yield a good harvest of rice, a staple in the Miskito diet.