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Nicaragua is the second poorest country (after Haiti) in the Western Hemisphere. About 80% of the people live in poverty, and more than half of those are extremely poor - meaning they don't know if they'll eat today. Unemployment stands around 70%, but many of those who work make only about $70 per month - when the "basic basket" for a family of four is U$425 per month.

In 2007, inflation (says the government) was 15%. But other organizations say it was more like 20-25%. Meanwhile, wages have been frozen in most industries for more than 10 years.

Nicaragua has been plagued by natural disasters, dating back to the 1972 earthquake that leveled Managua and killed more than 10,000 people. But the country has also been battered in recent years by corrupt politicians at the highest level, ineffective economic policies and privatization of utilities. Illiteracy, which reached a record low of 12% in 1990, has once again climbed to nearly 45%.

The Managua dump is home to about 175 families. Another 1,000-2,000 people arrive daily to look for food to eat and recyclable materials they can sell. The families live in and around the smoldering garbage in shacks consisting of corrugated tin, cardboard and black plastic. Six months a year, the narrow roads are filled with mud as thick as quicksand and a gag-producing stench. During the dry season, the powder-like dust settles on everything and everyone. Year-round, the sun beats mercilessly on the backs of those who scavenge.

A recent study by the Managua government refers to the dump as "the most dangerous place to work" in the city. Children are the hardest hit. It would be bad enough to just breathe in the toxic smoke that hovers over the garbage: one-third of the children have lead in their blood. But children routinely are disfigured as they search through metal and glass, and even killed by the very trucks that bring them hope of a meal.