We report on a pilot study to assess the effects of low intensity war in Nicaragua on the health of the civilian population. The study compared data from two regions in Nicaragua, one in an area of intense conflict, the other further removed from the war's violence. Information was obtained from a questionnaire administered to female heads of randomly selected households; structured interviews with community leaders and health workers; group discussions with community residents; and a review of regional and municipal death records. Height and mid-upper arm circumference of children were measured, and immunization records reviewed. The war has had a serious negative effect on the lives of the civilian population in both the war zone and the non-war zone, with the effects most severe in the war zone. In both communities, over half of the respondents reported the death of a friend or relative. In the war zone community, over one-fourth of respondents reported attacks on family members in non-combat situations around their homes. Death by firearms was the leading cause of death in persons over age 6 in the war zone. Vaccination coverage, nutritional indices, and familial disruption were worse in the war zone community. The findings suggest that continued funding of the Nicaraguan contra forces by the United States may be harming the ostensible beneficiaries of that policy, and that use of such low intensity conflict as a foreign policy tool should be questioned.