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Island of Widows

Ed Kashi | Nicaragua

Cane cutters work in a field that was burned the night before, covered in the black soot and ashes of the charred sugar cane in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua on May 1, 2014.

In Nicaragua, the average life span of men who harvest sugarcane is 49 years. At the root of these early deaths is an epidemic known as Chronic Kidney Disease of unknown origin (CKDu). In the town of Chichigalpa, often called the “Island of Widows,” 1-in-3 men, mostly cane workers, are in end-stage renal failure from a disease that is both a public health crisis and a social injustice. In Central America alone, more than 10,000 sugarcane workers have become sick or have died from this illness in the past twenty years.

Research on the subject of CKDu has indicated that repeated dehydration, severe heat, and environmental toxins might play a huge part in the rising death toll among sugarcane workers. This disease is of global concern, and not only because multiple countries like southern Mexico, Ecuador, Sri Lanka, India and other tropical or subtropical countries, are battling CKDu. After all, nearly everyone on earth consumes sugar in some form, and the United States alone imports a large portion of Nicaragua’s sugar exports.

Katie Stark, Jason Glaser, Jessey Dearing

Ed Kashi talks with SDN's Caterina Clerici about his most recent work in Nicaragua, crowd-funding, and new directions in photojournalism.

Click here to read interview.

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