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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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