Guatemala: It’s World Food Day but people here are starving
Thursday 16 October 2014
The world produces enough food for everyone – but not everyone has enough food. We all understand the unfairness of starvation in a well-fed world. Yet still it happens.
I’m currently in Chiquimula, Guatemala, which sits along the ‘dry corridor’ – an area that is, as the name suggests, harsh and dry, and which stretches across Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
This year, it’s even harsher and drier than usual: ECHO is calling it the worst drought in 40 years, affecting nearly 2 million people.
One disaster following another
In Guatemala alone, the drought has decimated bean and corn crops and as a result, half a million children are in danger of going hungry . And to make matters worse, the coffee crops their parents depend on for a livelihood have been destroyed by a plague of coffee rust, so the farmers are no longer hiring.
No food and no money is a lethal combination.
I think of Ruth. I want to call her little Ruth, but I know better. ‘I’m too small for my age. I’m not growing at all. I’m very embarrassed,’ she tells me.
Ruth nearly died when she was younger from acute malnutrition. She gets headaches daily and finds it hard to concentrate. ‘I have problems with my memory… I forget everything.”
She wants to be a nurse when she is older but it’s unlikely she will get beyond primary education as her parents cannot afford to feed her, let alone fund her education.
Children permanently harmed by hunger
I visited the local health centre, which is where Save the Children refers severe cases of malnutrition. One child is particularly fond of me: we play games with my shoes. I think he’s about four.
He’s not. He is eight years old. Eight, unable to speak yet, and barely taller than a toddler.
One in two children in Guatemala is chronically malnourished. They have suffered years of hunger. Not enough to kill them, just enough to slowly claw away their future, inch by inch, pound by pound.
And with this new emergency, it’s more than possible that some of these children will die.
Emergency is the normal state of affairs
The Guatemalan government has declared a state of emergency this year, but in reality this predicament is nothing new for the marginalised communities in Chiquimula.
‘This year is no different to any other year,’ says Olga, a single mother who has struggled for years to feed her family. ‘It just get worse, I suppose.’
I feel shame rise up into my cheeks as I talk to Olga. What an insult to her it must be to assume that just because people are starting to pay attention now, this crisis is new. ‘We don’t have hope here,’ she says matter-of-factly. ‘We just don’t.’
Everybody should have reason to hope
So, on World Food Day I want to draw attention to the 500,000 families suffering across Central America’s dry corridor, and to their communities, which have been forgotten for years.
It’s not famine. It probably won’t make front page news. But children will die. The situation will get worse. Thousands of children will continue to eat the minimum amount that can keep them alive, and sometimes less. Their brains will never develop as fully as they should, and they will never have the chance to become the nurses, the teachers and the people they dream to be.