Will you stay or will you go?

Nicaragua is the second poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere and is also prone to natural disasters due to its location in the gulf between two continents. Nicaragua experiences hurricanes, flooding, landslides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions. Due to the nation’s history with high exposure to natural disasters, the government has one of the best evacuation systems in Latin America (Lacey, 2007). The Executive Secretariat of the National System for the Prevention, Mitigation, and Attention of Disasters (SINAPRED) closely monitors potential threats and calls for evacuations when necessary. Some Nicaraguans refuse to leave their homes during these disasters, believing there is a great threat of having their homes looted during evacuations. Many families have a choice to make: do they evacuate and risk the possibility of losing everything that they own? Or do they stay and risk their lives to save their belongings?

While more recent reports of looting during natural disasters evacuation have been greatly exaggerated by the media and do not reflect the actual numbers, many rural families still refuse to evacuate their homes in fear of looters (Schellnhuber, 2008). After the devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, where 11,000 people died and many of the homes left standing were robbed, many people do not want to risk losing everything again (Lacey, 2007). Most of the time, the male head of the household will stay behind in their house to protect against looters while the rest of their family evacuates to a shelter. In the North Eastern rural communities where hurricanes strike more often and seventy-five percent of the population lives in poverty or extreme poverty, the families cannot afford to lose their belongings and would rather risk death than have nothing (The World Bank Group, 2016).

Since Hurricane Mitch, looting has gone down dramatically with the presence of armed forces protecting homes and families hiding their valuable possessions during evacuations (Lacey, 2007). However, the continued exaggeration of looting during natural disasters has caused many people to remain in their homes instead of seeking shelter (Schellnhuber, 2008). Since most of the people who refuse to evacuate live in rural communities and have very little money to replace everything that they own, they decide to risk their lives to protect their valuables. With increased awareness about the rarity of looting, families would be more likely to evacuate. If families can be ensured that their homes will remain protected by emergency responders until the families return, it would increase resilience in these already extremely poor and high-risk communities. so that they do not have to risk their lives any longer.

-Bridget, Project: Ptolemy Policy Research Intern



Lacey, Marc. “Hurricane Felix Hammers Nicaragua and Honduras.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Sept. 2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/09/05/world/americas/05felix.html.

“Nicaragua: Poverty Assessment.” Poverty Analysis — Measuring Poverty, The World Bank Group, 2016, go.worldbank.org/0TPHYXCZX0.

Schellnhuber, Hans Joachim. “Climate Change as a Security Risk.” Google Books, 2008, books.google.com/books?id=9isCgzsLqxoC.