Guatemala is a country in Central America, sharing a border with Mexico and Honduras. Active volcanoes border the nation, carving high mountains and desert valleys into the landscape. Despite its beautiful scenery, however, Guatemala is considered to be one of the most unequal societies in the world. With a population of over 16 million people, nearly half of Guatemala’s population struggles to afford even the most basic of food items, and according to the World Food Program, two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day. As a result, Guatemalan citizens continue to flee to neighboring countries, seeking better opportunities for themselves and their families. Here are five things you should know about the impact of hunger in Guatemala.
5 Things to Know About Hunger in Guatemala
- Changing weather patterns cause food shortages in Guatemala. According to National Geographic, unpredictable weather patterns were what induced a devastating 2018 drought that was determined to be one of the worst in Guatemala’s history. Farmers rely on consistent weather patterns, and just a few unexpected changes in rainfall can spell disaster for food supplies. Guatemala has suffered from several long and sustained periods of drought over the past decade, and continues to experience increasing numbers of hurricanes and natural disasters. Severe El Niño storms and droughts are increasing in their intensity, forcing many families to flee their homes in hope of a better life.
- Children are the most vulnerable. A recent article by Reuters reports a 24% increase in malnutrition in children aged five years or younger. Even during the peak of the rain season, Guatemalan farmers are struggling to keep staple crops like wheat and grain safe from dry heat. As periodic drought continues to weaken Guatemala’s peak rain season, children experience the brunt of the impact, with their families are unable to afford food for daily meals.
- The government is working to improve nutrition. For some children, school meals may be the only ones that they receive. To address child malnutrition, the Guatemalan government passed a new law to increase investment in school meals for children. This law increases the reach of its school meal program to all of its departments, benefiting over 2.5 million school children across the country. Additionally, this expansion increases the economic impact of these nutritional meals, requiring 50% of the food for the program to be purchased from local farmers, in order to bolster local businesses.
- International organizations are focusing on female empowerment and education initiatives to fight hunger. The World Bank is working to target female farmers and connect them with markets for fresh food, including school feeding initiatives. By empowering these female farmers in Guatemala, the country is simultaneously increasing income equality and replenishing the food supply for impoverished children. Pilot programs by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization have shown success in strengthening these ties between female farmers and schools, ultimately keeping children in education and empowering local farmers. Overall, the programs have overwhelming public support, with 95% of school children enjoying the new menu implementations.
- USAID is contributing to Guatemalan efforts to reduce hunger. In addition to empowering local farmers and strengthening education initiatives, USAID currently oversees three main initiatives to increase the effectiveness of medical, educational and economic measures combating hunger in Guatemala – Feed the Future, the Global Health Initiative and the Global Climate Change Initiative. These initiatives include programs to expand the current Guatemalan infrastructure in partnership with nonprofit organizations, increase access to basic health care for citizens in rural areas, provide education and community outreach to convey the importance of a nutritious diet and streamline access to medical care and treatment for malnutrition.
The Guatemalan government and international organizations are working collaboratively to address the serious problem of nationwide hunger. While current projects are seeing substantial progress, sustained efforts will be needed as climate change continues to increase the influence of erratic weather patterns.
– Amanda Ozaki-Laughon