Washington, D.C. — The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and partner agencies of the United Nations System are supporting an urgent humanitarian appeal for international funds to help halt a deadly wave of food insecurity and acute malnutrition affecting some 136,000 families in drought-stricken areas of Guatemala.
The humanitarian appeal, launched today at U.N. headquarters in Geneva, seeks $34 million to provide immediate food relief and to support a series of projects aimed at protecting health, particularly of children under 5 and women of childbearing age, as well as restoring the livelihoods of the target population.
“PAHO and our U.N. partners in Guatemala are eye witnesses to a food security crisis that is threatening the lives and health of 11 percent of children and 14 percent of women in the affected areas,” said PAHO’s Representative in Guatemala, Dr. Pier Paolo Balladelli.
The humanitarian appeal is focused on the needs of families living in an area of east and central Guatemala known as the “dry corridor,” where drought conditions created by the El Niño phenomenon have produced crop losses of as much as 50–100 percent during 2009. The impact has been most severe on subsistence and sub-subsistence farmers and has been compounded by the global economic downturn, which has brought declining remittances, higher seed and fertilizer costs, and fewer work opportunities for seasonal and unskilled workers.
Even before the current crisis, Guatemala had the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the Americas, with approximately half of children under 5 suffering from stunting. As a result of the drought and the economic crisis, hunger has reached critical levels in nine departments. Recent data show that 11 percent of children under 5 in the affected areas and 14 percent of women of childbearing age suffer from acute malnutrition. One in three families lacks sufficient food to meet their daily needs, and more than three-quarters have no food reserves. Some 240 people in the area (nearly all of them children) are estimated to have died in 2009 from severe acute malnutrition, and in January of this year, more than 200 children were hospitalized or treated in special centers for malnutrition. Health officials believe these numbers underestimate the real extent of the problem because of underreporting.
To address the crisis, the Guatemalan government in September 2009 declared a State of Public Calamity and appealed for $100 million in international aid. Since then, the government has provided $17.5 million in food and humanitarian relief while channelling $27 million in financial, food and technical assistance contributions from the international community.
The current $34 million appeal includes a request of $5.8 million in health-related assistance, which is being coordinated by PAHO in partnership with the U.N. Population Program (UNFPA). The funds will help PAHO, UNFPA and other partners work with Guatemala’s Ministry of Health to develop a system for early detection and immediate referral to treatment for patients suffering from acute malnutrition, with an emphasis on children under 5 and girls and women ages 10 to 19, as well as women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Chessa Lutter, PAHO regional advisor on food and nutrition, noted that the recent rise in malnutrition-related mortality has been most marked among children under 5, and especially babies under 6 months old.
“In food crises, children are the first to suffer ill effects and die,” said Lutter. “But preventing and treating malnutrition in children is also important in the longer run and for the country as a whole, due to the long-term developmental effects of poor nutrition early in life.”
Today’s humanitarian appeal also includes requests for $13.9 million for food relief, $5.5 million for agricultural projects, and $2.2 million for water, sanitation and hygiene. Other agencies supporting the appeal include the World Food Program (WFP), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), CARE, Save the Children USA, Plan International and World Vision.
The United Nations has identified Guatemala as one of 10 countries that are the world’s most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
PAHO was established in 1902 and is the world’s oldest public health organization. It works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and quality of life of the people of the Americas and serves as the Regional Office for the Americas of the World Health Organization (WHO).
Food and nutritional insecurity emergency in Guatemala, Red de Información Humanitaria para América Latina y el Caribe (“Humanitarian Information Network for Latin America and the Caribbean,” in Spanish only)