Poverty in Guatemala
Guatemala is a country made up of six primary ethnic communities, though the population mostly comprises people belonging to the Mestizo and Maya ethnic groups. These ethnic groups are generationally skilled in creating traditional forms of art, which include weaving, beading and embroidering. More than half the Guatemalan population lives in a highly populated southern mountainous area. Within this region also live the majority of communities that experience poverty in the country. Many individuals from ethnic communities in this region use art to leverage themselves out of poverty in Guatemala.

Poverty in Guatemala

While Guatemala’s GDP has increased by an average of 3.5% over the past five years, high rates of poverty still exist within the country. About 59.3% of the Guatemalan population (9.4 million people) live below the poverty line. In surrounding Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) regional contexts, the average per capita growth is 1.6%. Due to high population growth rates since 2000, Guatemala’s recent annual per capita growth is only 1.3%. High population growth rates are, in part, caused by a young population, with a median age of 23.2 years.

The Literacy Gap

Guatemala also experiences lower rates of literacy among women than men. As of 2018, 85.3% of men and 76.7% of women were literate in Guatemala. Between 2002 and 2014, literacy rates among women improved by 13.03%. In recent years, organizations like MayaWorks have worked to address the low literacy rates among women in Guatemala. MayaWorks is a nonprofit organization that partners with women from rural communities to transform artisanal skills into sustainable businesses. Across 125 partnerships that MayaWorks has established with skilled Guatemalan artisans, more than 40% of women have never received a primary education — and therefore lack literacy skills. Through one program, MayaWorks offers women in rural Guatemala access to primary education to improve their literacy. Business and literacy training programs enable women to not only improve situations for their families and communities but also to decrease overall rates of poverty in Guatemala.

Supporting Women’s Education and Entrepreneurship

MayaWorks has shared stories of how business and literacy training programs can relieve women suffering from poverty in Guatemala. The Tz’utujil indigenous group makes up 30% of the Maya ethnic population and is primarily in a rural highland region of Guatemala. Women from this ethnic group are skilled in creating Maya-style crafts, including cultural staples such as crochet, hand weaving and treadle foot loom weaving. With the help of MayaWorks, more than 52 Tz’utujil women from Santiago Atitlán are leveraging their artisan skills and sharing their cultural forms of expression with businesses in the United States. These partnerships allow for extended solutions to both local and national poverty in Guatemala through international support. Meanwhile, the international business of Mayan artists is strengthening relations between Guatemala and the United States.

The work of Mayan artisans, combined with the financial and educational support of MayaWorks, has already begun to alleviate poverty in Guatemala. Overall literacy levels for Guatemalan women have increased, which has also led to the employment of more women within the country’s workforce. According to the World Bank, employment rates for women in Guatemala have reduced from 45.6% in 2000 to 37.84% in 2019. On a localized level, while many women are now able to obtain security for their families and communities, there are still challenges for women to gain employment. However, MayaWorks promises to help Guatemalan women become successful. Above all, working with MayaWorks equips women to be self-sufficient in running businesses and managing finances. This results in a generationally sustainable, long-term solution for reducing poverty in Guatemala.

Lilia Wilson
Photo: Pixabay

Poverty in Guatemala
Guatemala is a Central American country that borders Mexico and Belize to the North, and Honduras and El Salvador to the Southeast. With a population of 16.3 million as of 2018, Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America. Of the country’s total population, estimates have determined that more than 40% are indigenous, and approximately 75% of them live in poverty. Although most demographics in the country face poverty, rural indigenous communities feel the effects most acutely.

Second-Highest Level of Poverty in the Americas

Poverty in Guatemala is disproportionately high for the country with the largest economy in Central America; while Guatemala had a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $75.62 billion in 2017, it also has the second-highest poverty rate in the Americas. Since 2006, poverty has grown. Approximately 2 million people slid below the poverty line (measured by an income of less than $5 USD per day) from 2006 to 2014. During the same window of time, around half a million slipped into extreme poverty ($1.90 USD or less per day). According to a national survey, the poverty rate among indigenous, predominantly rural communities is as high as 79%.

Poor Distribution of Resources

Extreme socioeconomic and geographic inequality largely characterizes the nature of poverty in Guatemala. As many as eight in 10 citizens living in rural municipalities live in poverty. One study found, from a sample of six other Latin American countries, that Guatemala had the poorest distribution of health and educational resources. Access to health resources and quality education is key in enhancing social mobility and bringing individuals out of poverty. Poor distribution of these resources in rural areas fortifies the regional cycle of poverty between contributing to lower life expectancy and limiting opportunities for education.

Additionally, chronic malnutrition debilitates poor Guatemalan communities; the level of malnutrition in Guatemalan children—47% as of 2019—is the highest of all the Latin American countries, and among the highest globally. This aggravates the cycle of poverty as well. Malnutrition burdens the already-limited health care system and stunts the local economic potential by reducing the physical and intellectual capability of youth. While many families traditionally subsist on agriculture to feed themselves, chronic drought has left many of these communities fully reliant on overseas remittances for survival.

Effects of the Coronavirus

As is the case in many countries, experts anticipate that poverty in Guatemala will increase as a result of COVID-19. In addition to the uneven allocation of health resources, the country’s poor have also suffered under strict lockdown rules, job loss and an enormous reduction in overseas remittances. The country reported a 17.2% loss in remittances corresponding with the rising unemployment rate in the U.S. These remittances not only make up approximately 12% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product but directly impact those families that rely on that form of income to feed themselves.

Additionally, stay-at-home orders have effectively collapsed the country’s informal economy, in which 70% of Guatemalans participate. Unregulated by the government, the informal economy comes with no formal protections or benefits in the event of labor loss. Similarly, official reports of unemployment in Guatemala are disproportionately skewed, as only 30% of Guatemalans work in the formal sector; this allows for employment statistics to disproportionately represent the number of individuals at risk of slipping into poverty.

NGOs Working to Help

Both domestic and international NGOs have turned their attention to meeting the challenges of poverty; these include issues both introduced and aggravated, respectively, by the COVID-19 pandemic. The humanitarian group Plan International presently tracks food prices via telephone surveys throughout Guatemala, identifying which regions are most food insecure.

The locally-based Konojel Community Centre is working to adapt its boots-on-the-ground services, suspending traditional programs aimed at reducing child malnutrition in order to distribute food packages to the community’s most vulnerable families. Simultaneously, Konojel Community Centre’s director is currently pushing the Guatemalan government to apply for loans from the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank to lessen the blow of economic crisis in vulnerable areas.

This comes at a time that Konojel Community Centre, like many NGOs at present, is hard-pressed for funding with the sharp decline of the global economy. Despite the circumstances, these NGOs are working to prevent as much loss of progress on malnutrition and poverty in Guatemala as possible.

Alexandra Black
Photo: Flickr

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 Poverty in Guatemala
One of the strongest economic performers in Latin America in recent years, Guatemala’s GDP has steadily grown. However, the benefits of this economic growth have not been realized by a large portion of Guatemalan society, particularly the indigenous population. The top 10 facts about poverty in Guatemala reveal that, while it is a country with tremendous economic potential, several institutional changes must occur before the welfare of all the people in Guatemala can improve.

Top 10 Facts about Poverty in Guatemala

  1. Poverty affects the majority of Guatemalan citizens. In 2014, the poverty rate estimations were about 60 percent. But even more astounding than this estimate is the fact that today almost 40 percent of the population is affected by extreme poverty, meaning that they live on $1.50 or less each day.
  2. Forty percent of the population is employed in the industry. Guatemala has long depended heavily on its agricultural sector for export revenues and its overall economic stability has been correlated with the performance in this sector. Despite the importance of the sector, the majority of the seven million Guatemalans employed in the agricultural sector receive insufficient wages.
  3. Guatemala is still recovering, both economically and socially, from its civil war. The war lasted 36 years, from 1960 to 1996, instilling a deep division between the government and its opposition, the rural poor, a large portion of which were indigenous Mayans. The divisions and mistrust between the poor population and the Guatemalan government still persist.
  4. Indigenous peoples in Guatemala face disproportionate levels of poverty and human development than non-indigenous people. With 60 percent of indigenous Guatemalans living in extreme poverty, it is clear that the government must address the institutional practices contributing to their social exclusion and economic deprivation.
  5. Rural inhabitants have little access to education, due to a lack of investment from the government. Many rural areas do not have schools at all, necessitating a long and expensive commute for rural families. With the current state of poverty in Guatemala, many rural families cannot afford to send their children to school. Low levels of education have contributed to a low literacy rate of 81.5 percent.
  6. Guatemala’s tax system has historically been weak, making it difficult for the government to institute welfare programs and invest in infrastructural development. Tax evasion has long been a problem in the country with an estimated evasion rate of 34.2 percent in 2015.
  7. There is an extreme level of income disparity in Guatemala, with less than 1 percent of the population in control of half of the country’s wealth.
  8. Violence and extortion in Guatemala are rampant and largely associated with economic deprivation. In 2015, the Honduran newspaper, La Prensa, found that Guatemalans involuntarily paid $61 million to organized crime groups. These organized crime groups have reportedly infiltrated state institutions, allowing them to operate above the law. Unchecked violence and extortion have driven thousands of Guatemalans to seek asylum in the United States.
  9. In 2016, Guatemala received a $250 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) targeted toward improving tax collection and raising tax revenues. Historically, the IDB has played the role of financier and consultant for sustainable, poverty-reducing development in Latin American countries.
  10. The United States provided $297 million of aid to Guatemala in 2016. The U.S. Agency for International Development has given $9.8 million thus far in 2018 in order “to create a Guatemala in which economic opportunity exists and irregular migration is not necessary in order to find success.”

The top 10 facts about poverty in Guatemala demonstrate that by working to solve the issues of its neighbors, the United States can solve issues of its own in ways that will prove to be constructive for all parties involved.

Achievement of long-term social and economic objectives rest on the U.S. State Department’s commitment to Guatemalan aid and the Guatemalan government’s commitment to collaborate with international supporters.

Beyond this, the Guatemalan government must address the fundamental inadequacies within its current institutions that have disproportionately affected rural and indigenous people.

– Julius Long

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

Poverty in Guatemala
Chase Mangrum, a rising senior at Harding University majoring in Exercise Science and minoring in Medical Missions, recently spent six weeks in Guatemala in May and June as part of Health Talents International’s Medical Evangelism Training. She covered some ground during her trip, traveling to four different spots in total, and accomplishing a wide array of activities, such as taking Spanish language classes, living with multiple host families and working in local medical and dental clinics along the way. Mangrum came back equipped to share observations in an interview with The Borgen Project that underscore eight major facts about poverty in Guatemala.

8 Facts About Poverty in Guatemala

  1. Wealth distribution is unbalanced. Mangrum observes that bigger cities like Guatemala City, Antigua and Xela are modern and prosperous, but the villages she visited like Chicacao, Suchitepéquez along the coast and Chichicastenango, El Quiche in the highlands, were poorer. However, she also admits that the differences between wealth in towns and villages is not completely straightforward, explaining, “People who live in the smaller towns may seem to have more than those out in the villages, but they don’t own any land so most times they are still what you would consider impoverished.” Statistics corroborate Mangrum’s experiences. The vast majority of the population does live in poverty. Though those in the big cities are relatively better off, still 75 percent of the population lives in poverty and 58 percent in extreme poverty.
  2. The indigenous, non-Spanish-speaking population has limited access to education and opportunities. She noticed stark differences between Chicacao, where the majority of inhabitants are descended from Spanish colonists and speak Spanish, and Chichicastenango, where the predominant language is a Mayan dialect called Quiche. Again, statistics back up Mangrum’s observations. More than 90 percent of the indigenous population survives on an income below the poverty line, a higher percentage than the average for Guatemala.
  3. Water systems and waste management remain undeveloped and unhygienic in many parts of Guatemala. Mangrum shares: “The homes I stayed in had a water source but it was not pure; [w]e had to filter our water to drink. Some places have flushing toilets and showers, but there are many places that are latrine only and people take bucket showers.” Many of the country’s water systems are considered to be in partial or complete failure by Water for People. However, hope exists as 93 percent of Guatemalans have access to improved water, and the rural population only lags a little behind, with 87 percent access.
  4. Many depend on farming inherited land as their sole source of income, contributing to cyclical poverty in Guatemala. As 65 percent of the land is controlled by 2.5 percent of farms, land is passed down through families and most consider farming one of their only options. Do to perceived limited opportunities, many Guatemalans whose parents lived in poverty remain trapped in poverty.
  5. Guatemalans often depend on informal jobs for their income. The United Nations estimates that 70 percent of Guatemalans are employed informally, meaning they do not receive any kinds of benefits that come from a formal contract and employer.
  6. Inexpensive diets of rice and tortillas resulting from poverty in Guatemala make diabetes a prevalent issue. Mangrum believes Type 2 diabetes is the most prominent health issue she encountered in Guatemala. She related this to the corn tortillas that were a cheap diet staple for many of her host families. At seven and a half percent, the diabetes rate in Guatemala is not beyond help, but 47.7 percent of the population is overweight, 16.4 percent of the population is obese and 12.4 percent of the population is considered physically inactive. All of these risk factors make potential growth rates of diabetes a concern.
  7. Fatalistic views from generations of poverty in Guatemala have caused rampant dental hygiene problems. Tooth decay is one of the main issues seen by dentists in Guatemala, attributed to lack of personal knowledge and prioritization of dental hygiene, fluoride lack and unhealthy diets. Mangrum explains this worldview she encountered as a hopeless belief that because one’s parents had bad teeth, no amount of prevention can keep the next generation from having bad teeth as well. This meant that most of the patients Mangrum saw during her time in local dental offices came to have their teeth extracted rather than having preventive check-ups. Mangrum sees a lot of hope for addressing poverty in Guatemala through medical missions. She says, “In societies like Guatemala where there [are] still traditional healing practices that influence health care, it is crucial to address the patient’s spiritual health. Many times they believe they are sick due to an unbalance in their body and spirit or that something in their life like sin is affecting their health.”
  8. Poverty in Guatemala cyclically continues because many Guatemalans cannot afford education past elementary school. Most Guatemalan children must help provide for their families, making secondary education a luxury few can afford. Enrollment in primary school is very successful, nearly 100 percent, but more than two million Guatemalans from ages 15-24 do not meet the criteria to enter the workforce. Therefore, they remain on those family farms, excluded from the economy by the farming elite, or they join the informal workforce, and therefore in poverty.

Ways to Get Involved

Thanks to Mangram’s on-the-ground perspective, one can see the validity of these top eight facts about poverty in Guatemala. With such an eye-opening view, many may ask what can be done to aid in some of these issues; one of the best methods is emblematized by Magnum — go offer assistance directly in the country itself through established aid organizations.

Other options are more remote in nature — contacting representatives in favor of foreign aid legislation, donating to sustainable outreach and development programs, sponsoring local businesspeople — but no matter the route, aid to Guatemala can be as effective and eye-opening as in Mangram’s journey.

– Charlotte Preston
Photo: Flickr

Guatemala Fights Against CorruptionThe April 23 decision by Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina to renew the mandate for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, creates substantial inroads for poverty reduction in the country.

CICIG is an effort by the United Nations to “eradicate illegal groups and clandestine security structures that operate in Guatemala.” CICIG has been working in the country since 2007 to strengthen institutions that can successfully challenge illegal criminal networks and bring an end to the fraudulent governance practices that plague the country.

Otto Pérez Molina — who back in March was reluctant to extend the CICIG mandate into 2017 — made his decision amidst a tax scandal that sparked protests across the country. The U.S. State Department officially welcomed the President’s change of heart, and for good reason.

Inept institutions and corrupt officials seriously hamper with a country’s development machinery. Poor investment climates, macroeconomic volatility, mismanagement of public funds and the struggles of doing business, just some of the repercussions of corruption, impede growth and contribute to poverty. A 2005 study put the cost of global corruption at around $1 trillion annually.

A great poverty reduction target then, for the $25 million the U.S. Government has contributed to CICIG since 2008. These funds have supported the UN prosecuting body in the investigation and litigation of over 50 high-level cases ranging from embezzlement to drug trafficking and murder. CICIG’s involvement has been crucial in subverting the power of criminal groups, as Guatemala’s institutions are incapable of tackling corruption on their own.

Without extra-judicial assistance, an incapable government and organized crime would continue to distort markets, deliver desperately needed public services inefficiently and restrain the potential for human capital led growth. In a country with such high rates of poverty and income inequality, this is a shame. In 2011, the World Bank put the percent of Guatemala’s population living below the national poverty line at 53.7 percent. The most recent data, also from the World Bank, ranks Guatemala as the second most unequal country in Latin America with regards to income—a reflection of its high level of corruption.

However, Guatemala is not unique in the region. Honduras and El Salvador also experience entrenched corruption, which has created a breeding ground for violence in the so-called Northern Triangle, a region comprised of the three aforementioned States. Experts believe the violence has been fueling the flow of child migrants from the Northern Triangle to the United States.

Ending impunity and building capacity for public institutions in Guatemala will curb violence, unlock growth and reduce poverty. If success continues, this approach can be a model for the whole Northern Triangle.

In the context of a proposed $1 billion aid package for the Central American region in 2015 and the Obama administration’s request for $3.7 billion in border security measures, the continued presence of CICIG in Guatemala represents a small but powerful way for the United States to fund development in the region.

– John Wachter

Sources: CICIG, CICIG Center for Strategic and International Studies Immigration Impact Tico Times Tico Times Tico Times U.S. State Department World Bank World Bank World Bank World Bank
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