Belize is perhaps best known internationally as a country of refuge for people fleeing the violence of The Northern Triangle, the area with the highest homicide rate in the world. The Northern Triangle is composed of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.

It is for its welcoming and accommodating demeanor that the country of Belize has been dubbed Central America’s Sanctuary, but deep within the sanctuary lies a problem which threatens to disrupt local and international stability: hunger.

Hunger in Belize is not a new issue. Since the early 2000s, Belize has had trouble ensuring adequate nutrition for its people. With the recent spikes in violent crime in surrounding countries, Belize’s food problems are predicted to grow in response to increased immigration rates.

While the gratuitous violence of The Northern Triangle tends to dominate the Central American media stage, hunger in Belize poses a real threat to the stability of the nation and its propensity for economic growth and expansion. Below are 10 facts which provide a quick, illustrative snapshot of how hunger is more than a physical pain: it is also an inhibitor of progress and a force unparalleled in its pervasive destructiveness.

  1. The Depth of Hunger Index for Belize jumped from 150 calories to over 400 calories in 2007. (Depth of Hunger is measured as a deficit, meaning that, in 2007, individuals in Belize were lacking on average 400 calories of nutrition every day). For reference, a depth of hunger index score of 200 is cause for concern, demonstrating that a 400-calorie deficit is a cause for alarm.
  2. Food quality is also poor in Belize. Thirty-five percent of children under the age of five in Belize are anemic, which means that their red blood cell count is low. A low red blood cell count can lead to fatigue, which may seem trivial, but can have serious repercussions on a child’s early brain development.
  3. Hunger is not only a physical pain; it is also a social ailment. Over eight percent of Belizean women surveyed in a 2013 study said a husband has the right to beat his wife for burning the food, neglecting the children or arguing with their husband. While spousal disagreements and child neglect are not synonymous with hunger, there are potential overlaps between the above-listed categories. For example, a domestic assault may arise from an argument about how to ration food, exemplifying how hunger can permeate every sphere of social life and fuel social unrest.
  4. The Depth of Hunger in Belize is currently at 170 calories per person per day, which shows that overall hunger has decreased in recent years. However, whether or not the Depth of Hunger in Belize will continue to improve is a source of great debate among nutrition experts. Prevailing sentiments suggest that Belize’s hunger problems stem from the tumultuous political states of its neighboring countries, which means that stability must be restored in Belize’s neighboring countries in order for the Belizean government to shift its focus from providing protection to refugees to reducing hunger.
  5. The Depth of the Food Deficit is another hunger unit of measurement that indicates how many calories would be needed to improve the nutritional health of a country’s population from one hunger bracket to the next. For example, in Belize, the Depth of the Food Deficit is 40 calories per person per day, which means that the severely malnourished need 40 calories more per day in order to be considered only moderately malnourished.
  6. The food inflation rate in Belize is -1.7 percent, which means that food is currently relatively cheap. However, an extended food deflation rate could cause the agricultural economy to collapse leaving families to fend for themselves on small farms. Sustenance farming is somewhat common among rural families, but for those without arable land, deflating food prices are a bad omen.
  7. Because of inadequate nutrition, 19.3 percent of children ages 12 and under are stunted in growth or suffer from moderate malnutrition, which could leave them predisposed to illnesses in later life.
  8. Funds to minimize Belizean hunger are frequently funneled into border security programs in order to reduce violent crimes. Often times, however, these programs are ineffectual and serve solely as a sieve on limited national funds.
  9. Social safety net programs like the Food Pantry and Conditional Cash Transfer programs are new initiatives to reduce poverty and hunger in Belize. While the initiatives themselves purport huge successes, the tangible benefits of these programs have yet to be seen.
  10. While hunger in Belize has been on the decline since 2007, it remains an ominous threat to the continued development of Belize’s economy. Many school nutritional programs have been introduced in order to ensure that children have the energy to succeed in school and thus secure a fruitful professional career.

Belize is known as the refuge for the violence which plagues The Northern Triangle of Central America, and there is little doubt that the influx of crime and nefarious activities has augmented the country’s struggle to establish universal nutrition for its people. However, with the unveiling of a number of food and poverty programs in 2016, hunger in Belize seems well on its way to being satiated.

Spencer Linford

Photo: Flickr