HomeFutures and CommoditiesGuatemala's Mayan highlands face hunger as global warming intensifies, warns Reuters.

Guatemala’s Mayan highlands face hunger as global warming intensifies, warns Reuters.

Guatemala’s Stunting Crisis: A Growing Concern for Child Nutrition

By Cassandra Garrison

A Struggle for Survival

In the isolated village of El Aguacate, Guatemala, Maria Concepcion Rodriguez faced a daily struggle to feed her six children. With only a few tortillas and half a bowl of reheated beans, their meals were meager and insufficient. Her three-month-old baby was the only one with proper growth, while the others suffered from stunted growth due to undernourishment. This heartbreaking reality is all too common in El Aguacate, where many families, like Rodriguez’s, don’t have enough food on their plates.

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A Shocking Statistic

According to UNICEF, in 2022, a staggering 44 percent of children in Guatemala fell outside the normal height-for-age range. This rate of stunting is the highest in Latin America, surpassing even Ecuador, and only seven countries globally have higher levels. These alarming statistics highlight the urgent need for action to address the persistent issue of malnutrition in Guatemala.

A Perfect Storm

The crisis of stunting in Guatemala is intertwined with various factors, including extreme weather conditions, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and political instability. The country has experienced worsening extremes of rainfall and temperature, which align with predictions of intensifying drought and its impact on agriculture and food security in the Central American Dry Corridor. This region, where Guatemala is located, has been hit by longer and deeper droughts, as well as destructive hurricanes, leading to widespread crop damage.

The Devastating Consequences

During a visit to the regions of Alta Verapaz and Baja Verapaz in Guatemala, Reuters encountered numerous families struggling with food insecurity, crop damage, and heavy debts from failed migration attempts. The effects of malnutrition were evident, with at least 20 children observed suffering from severe malnutrition. The agricultural economy of Guatemala, heavily reliant on crops like coffee, sugar, corn, and beans, has been severely impacted by climate change and its associated consequences.

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A Desperate Situation

Over the past decade, Guatemala has witnessed a rapid increase in hunger. According to projections from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), at least 127 deaths among young children were suspected to be linked to hunger in the first nine months of this year alone. Crop damage caused by climate change is considered one of the primary causes of food shortages and migration decisions in Guatemala. Experts, including the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the U.S. State Department, agree that climate change exacerbates the already dire situation.

An Urgent Call to Action

The severity of the hunger crisis in Guatemala has caught the attention of the international community. Former U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, Donald J. Planty, emphasized the need for urgent action, stating that people in rural areas are starving. The United States has acknowledged the role of climate change in driving hunger and migration in Central America and is increasing efforts to build resilience to climate change in the region. Guatemala’s incoming President, Bernardo Arevalo, has recognized the link between hunger and migration and plans to invest in addressing the historical marginalization of Indigenous populations.

The Human Toll

The devastating impact of malnutrition is evident in the lives of Guatemalan families. In nutrition clinics like the one in San Cristobal, Alta Verapaz, health officials deal with severe malnutrition cases daily. Children suffer from stunted growth and other health complications, with some even losing their lives. The weight of this crisis falls heavily on the shoulders of parents like Imelda Pa Xol, who worry endlessly about their children’s well-being.

Escaping a Bleak Future

As crops continue to fail and food insecurity persists, many Guatemalan farmers, like Fidel Eduardo Lopez, see migration as their only hope. Lopez, along with his wife, has attempted to migrate illegally to the United States in search of better opportunities. The changing climate has made rainfall unpredictable, resulting in significantly reduced crop yields. The number of Guatemalans arriving at the U.S. border has soared, highlighting the urgency of addressing the root causes of migration.

The stunting crisis in Guatemala is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive and multi-faceted approach. Immediate action is needed to address the devastating impact of climate change on agriculture, ensure food security, and provide support to vulnerable communities. Only through concerted efforts and international cooperation can Guatemala overcome this ongoing crisis and give its children a chance for a brighter future.

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