Thousands of malnourished children in the drought-ravaged regions of Guatemala could face starvation if rains do not bring relief soon, government officials and aid agencies said on Friday.
After low rainfall in July and August destroyed corn in at least four departments of the impoverished Central American country, at least 4,000 families are at risk of severe food shortages, agencies say. Although Guatemala has enough food supplies to help the affected areas for the moment, sources say it will struggle if the drought continues.
“If it doesn’t rain in the next two months we will have a more serious problem,” Guillermina Segura, head of the World Food Program in Guatemala, told Reuters on Friday.
Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which is responding with $90,000 for immediate food relief, reported that nearly 80 percent of corn crops have been lost. In communities along the southern coastal plain, as well as in the east, east-central and northwest parts of the country, the food crisis has manifested itself in cases of malnutrition, illness and death.
“The families who are being hardest hit are those who are already very poor and who rely on this annual crop not just for income but for food,” said Lane Bunkers, Country Representative for Guatemala. “This vulnerability is only increased by the fact many work on land that is not theirs and rely on loans [for seeds and fertilizer] that cannot now be repaid.”
Rains predicted for September will not arrive in time to save this year’s crop. The Guatemalan government estimates the crop loss at $4 million. CRS will provide rice, corn, vegetable oil and beans to those in need. Food distribution will be complemented with clean water programming, both of which will be implemented directly through local Catholic Church partners located in the affected communities.
The largest of the Central American countries, Guatemala has a population of more than 14 million people. Although a brutal 36-year civil war ended in 1996, the country continues to struggle economically. More than 75 percent of all Guatemalans live on less than $2 a day, with indigenous people among the poorest of the poor. CRS has worked in Guatemala since 1963, with programs in agriculture, education, health, HIV/AIDS, civil society, micro finance and emergency response.
In 2002, scenes of babies with swollen bellies brought international attention to the east of the country, and alerted many urban Guatemalans to the desperate poverty of their rural neighbors.
Since then the government of President Oscar Berger has put together a program praised by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO.
However, on a recent visit to the country, FAO chief Jacques Diouf warned that serious rural investment was needed to prevent worsening food shortages.