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Hunger in Guatemala
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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
Photo: Unsplash

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Guatemala
Guatemala is a stunning country with a diverse landscape of mountains, rainforest and volcanoes. Home to ancient Mayan ruins, the country has a rich history and culture, and while the official language is Spanish, many indigenous languages still persist. With a history of civil war and natural disasters, however, Guatemala suffers from a number of problems including poverty, food insecurity, low education rates and poor health care. Below the top 10 facts about living conditions in Guatemala are presented.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Guatemala

  1. Guatemala has a population of more than 17 million people and over half of them live below the national poverty line of $2 a day. Indigenous persons and those residing in rural areas are disproportionately affected by poverty.
  2. The United Nations Human Development Index ranks 187 countries by different criteria such as life expectancy, education and living standard. Guatemala is listed at number 127 on this index compared to the United States, for example, that ranks 13. This is a result of a variety of factors, including low life expectancy and education rates, and high levels of poverty and inequality.
  3. Agriculture employs the majority of the workforce on coffee, sugar and banana plantations. However, farm workers make only $3-4 a day and work is often seasonal, leaving many people in deep financial crisis in offseason. Additionally, less than two percent of farmers own 57 percent of arable land, which suggests unequal wealth distribution.
  4. Not having access to clean drinking water allows the spread of waterborne diseases such as typhoid and hepatitis. With the help of nonprofit organizations such as Water for People and Charity Water, access to clean water in the country has increased significantly over the years and Guatemala met the Millennium Development Goal to cut the number of citizens without drinking water in half by 2015. Sanitation, however, remains a greater issue, with only 61 percent of those in rural areas with the access.
  5. Guatemala is the most malnourished country in Latin America and the Caribbean with 46.5 percent of children under the age of 5 that are stunted. Corn is a staple in Guatemalan diet and many families cannot afford nutritious alternatives since two-thirds of the population lives on less than $2 a day. Food insecurity results in health complications as well as lowered educational achievement.
  6. Many Guatemalans still cook over wood-burning stoves. Without a chimney, the smoke remains in the kitchen and is inhaled by those that cook, causing lung diseases, respiratory infections, eye damage and even cancer. Unfortunately, most people cannot afford to upgrade to a safer stove because the cost of fuel associated with it is too high.
  7. Access to health care remains an issue for many Guatemalan citizens, especially for those outside of urban areas. The average life expectancy is 73 years. Indigenous persons have a significantly lower life expectancy, and indigenous women in childbirth die three times as often as the rest of the population.
  8. Guatemala suffers from a serious housing crisis. More than half of citizens have inadequate housing and land rights remain an issue, with around 1 percent of the population owning 60 percent of the land. Many families live in homes with dirt floors with parasites which cause different illnesses. Humanitarian groups like The Guatemala Housing Alliance and Habitat for Humanity are helping build homes and communities to address this problem and improve the lives of many Guatemala citizens.
  9. Education rates in Guatemala are extremely low, with the average child remaining in school for just 10 years. This particularly affects young girls, children in rural areas and those belonging to indigenous groups. Less than three percent of the GDP goes for schooling improvements, which ranks the country in the last place in Latin America. Furthermore, only 10 percent of rural schools have books.
  10. Internet access is an uncommon thing in Guatemala, with only 34.5 percent of the population with internet access. Legislation in the United States, such as the Digital Global Access Policy (GAP) Act, is aimed at promoting internet access in developing countries to increase economic growth and innovation, and consequently to alleviate poverty. This bill has been passed in the House and a companion bill will soon be introduced in the Senate. If this bill is to be signed into law, countries such as Guatemala would greatly benefit from it. Readers of the Borgen Project can contact decision makers directly through the website, specifically this link.

These top 10 facts about living conditions in Guatemala demonstrate the persisting issues facing the country. Government prioritization of these matters, as well as aid from foreign governments and international humanitarian groups, would greatly improve the lives of many Guatemalans who continue to suffer in poverty.

– Georgia Orenstein
Photo: Flickr

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in GuatemalaAmidst beautiful landscapes, active volcanoes and a diverse indigenous population, Guatemala suffers from malnutrition and hunger. Many factors including climate threats, poverty, lack of education and low sanitation have contributed to this crisis overtime. With Guatemala having the highest population growth rate in Latin America, combating hunger is evermore important. The top 10 facts about hunger in Guatemala below demonstrate the need for help from the global community and the actions taken so far.

Top 10 Facts About Hunger in Guatemala

  1. Two-thirds of the Guatemalan population live on less than $2 per day. Due to this poverty, many cannot afford the most basic food items, causing Guatemala to have the highest rate of stunted growth in children under the age of five in Latin America and one of the highest rates in the world. Overall, the stunting rate is just under half of the young population but reaches up to 90 percent of children in certain areas.
  2. This colorful nation has the highest prevalence of chronic malnutrition in Latin America and the fourth highest in the world. In rural and indigenous areas, 55 to 69 percent of people are facing malnutrition, and in the highlands, 70 percent of children are suffering from starvation.
  3. Inequality in Guatemala is one of the worst in the world and the populations impacted by hunger vary. The World Food Programme (WFP) defines Guatemalan hunger as female, indigenous, rural and young. Although many people live on very little everyday, the indigenous population is particularly impacted with 80 percent experiencing poverty. Hunger, malnutrition, poor health and little education are some of the everyday challenges facing indigenous people.
  4. Natural disasters and climate change pose real threats to Guatemala and it is one of the ten countries most vulnerable to these threats. Recently the nation was impacted by a volcanic eruption that harmed and endangered many families. And for the past four years, Central America’s Dry Corridor has suffered from drought. This area makes up a big part of southern Guatemala and has only made hunger and subsistence farming worse.
  5. Subsistence farmers have struggled to feed their families partially due to droughts, which have made it harder for vulnerable communities to survive. Overuse of forests, poor land and soil, no access to credit, small plots, and a lack of agricultural tools have all caused agricultural production and profits to drop.
  6. Poverty and hunger impact families living in the Dry Corridor especially hard. These families have experienced so much loss and debt due to droughts and experts predict that they will suffer from food insecurity throughout the year. In other parts of Guatemala, agricultural production was sufficient enough to decrease prices and increase access to food showing once again the contrasts and inequality within this country.
  7. One of the factors contributing to stunting and hunger in children is the age at which females are having children in Guatemala. Most child rearing starts during adolescence and nearly 40 percent of girls have given birth by the time they are 19. With young girls facing malnutrition more than older women, their babies will be malnurished, weigh less and be stunted.
  8. Guatemala’s government is trying to fight hunger and has taken action to prevent malnutrition. The government implemented a plan to increase the yearly budget for nutrition and food by 2.5 percent and wants to improve the current system fighting hunger. It also started a program with a goal of decreasing the stunting rate by ten percent by 2020. It will do so by improving primary health care, water, sanitation and access to food.
  9. USAID has also taken action to end hunger in Guatemala. Food for Peace provides support to the WFP and other nonprofits trying to end hunger in the Dry Corridor. The program also supplies food vouchers and cash-for-training programs to help vulnerable families purchase food.
  10. The WFP is ending hunger in Guatemala in several different ways. This program works with the government to supply nutritious food to infants and promotes behavioral change. It is also assisting the government with institutions that help with food security and emergency situations. Similar to USAID, the WFP supports cash-for-training programs to allow families to buy food. It also supports small farms and provides humanitarian assistance during disasters.

Guatemala still suffers from hunger today but hopefully an increased awareness of the top 10 facts about hunger in Guatemala combined with efforts from multiple governments and organizations will see great results in the years to come.

– Alexandra Eppenauer

Photo: Flickr

agriculturally rich guatemala
The rural highlands are remarkably colorful in agriculturally rich Guatemala, providing a stunning view from afar. The visible beauty of pastoral Guatemala is undeniable, but a closer look into the Mayan communities that reside in the mountainous countryside reveals the equally undeniable issue of poverty, and the visible malnourishment of its inhabitants.

Despite the abundance of surrounding vegetation, up to 80 percent of children residing in the countryside are extremely undernourished and around half of all children in Guatemala fall into this category. Many of the families effected are farmers, but find it more beneficial to sell their harvest than eat it themselves. In this agricultural paradox, the vegetables grown in rural Guatemala hardly reach the plates of the natives. Instead, they are exported to the United States, Europe and other parts of Central America for a higher sale price that still manages to provide meager wages for the produce growers. For instance, the farmers in the farming village of Pammus live on only $3.42 per day.

Lack of funds makes it difficult for villagers to provide their family with nutrient-rich foods. “The fundamental diet here is basically corn and coffee. Maybe once, twice or three times a week beans,” said Arnulfo Alvarez, a local doctor in Pammus. “There is a shortage of proteins and vitamins and a shortage of some minerals that are fundamental in the development of a child’s growth, especially in the first five years of its life.”

Many children in Guatemala will benefit from adopting a rich, diverse diet, but will not be able to undo the lifelong effects of malnourishment from an early age. New developments focus on children 1,000 days old or younger, which is a make-or-break period in childhood development. The repercussions of malnourishment in Guatemalan children have been shown to include lower IQ scores, and increased likelihood for heart disease, diabetes, kidney damage and anemia into adulthood.

The most notable symptom of prolonged malnourishment in rural Guatemala is the significantly shorter average height of the Mayans. What has been chalked up to genetics until recently is now understood, at least partially, as the result of insufficient nutrients consumed during early stages of childhood development. Stunting is a clear indicator of malnutrition in Guatemala, indicated by the fact that Mayans over the border in Mexico are taller than their southern cousins.

The problem is also saturated by a lack of education; two years ago, most rural parents did not even understand the concept of malnutrition. New educational programs enlist mothers of small children in classes that teach about food health and track the health of infant children.

Guatemala ranks the highest gross domestic product in all of Central America, but lands in sixth place among chronic malnourishment rates worldwide. While Guatemala is rich enough to tackle the issue on its own, less fortunate Latin American countries such as Bolivia, Peru and Brazil have successfully reduced child malnutrition rates with fewer resources. The government and aid donors are currently sending supplies to around 300,000 people in Guatemala but an additional 400,000 people require assistance as well.

The government has taken creative steps to humanize the issue and gain a better understanding of the lifestyles of those most in need. Efforts include community outreach and visits to rural villages. One instance even involved numerous government officials spending the night in a rural hut, an event that is still discussed today, two years later.

The Guatemalan government has adopted a zero-hunger policy but has been long criticized for its failure to provide for all of its citizens. The response has been slow, but the issue is complicated by factors stemming back to the country’s mid-century civil unrest. Democracy came to the nation over time as well as a booming economy. However, improved social conditions remained mostly limited to expanding urban scenes while citizens on the country’s fringe were left behind.

There is extreme inequality in Guatemala and the government fails to collect enough taxes from wealthy citizens to provide for the poor. Reformed policies are coming into effect, but they are slow. The government only plans to reduce malnourishment by 10 percent by the end of 2015.

– Edward Heinrich

Sources: DW, The Economist, PBS
Photo: PBS