Household income strategies and natural disasters: Dynamic livelihoods in rural Nicaragua
This paper assesses the impact of hurricane Mitch on livelihood strategies of rural households in Nicaragua. Through destruction or distress sales of productive assets, a hurricane or another natural hazard could induce people with relatively remunerative livelihoods to choose more defensive strategies which allow them to survive, but at a permanently lower welfare level than before. Using panel data from before and after hurricane Mitch, we find that livelihood strategies can be grouped into three welfare categories. Annual farming and farm employment generate low incomes, whereas nonfarm wage employment and livestock farming result in relatively high incomes. Perennial farming, nonfarm self-employment and annual cropping with nonfarm employment take an intermediate position. High welfare strategies were associated with high levels of capital, and the number of people involved was very similar between different years, suggesting that households following low-welfare strategies were trapped in poverty. However, many households moved actively between strategies of different welfare levels. This indicates that there was no absolute poverty threshold, but also that being able to initiate a relatively profitable livelihood strategy was no guarantee that this strategy could be maintained. There is no evidence that hurricane Mitch affected livelihood strategy transitions: livelihood mobility was similar for households inside and outside Mitch-affected areas.
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