Since May 2009, Guatemala's East Central Pacific departments—an area known as the Corredor Seco (dry corridor)—have experienced irregular rainfall and drought. At least 25 children in the area have died of malnutrition and thousands of families, their crops devastated by the drought, run the risk of going hungry.
In response, President Álvaro Colóm declared a state of calamity on September 8. According to local reports, families in the departments of Baja Verapaz, Chiquimula, El Progreso, Jalapa, Jutiapa, Santa Rosa and Zacapa have lost between 50 and 80 percent of their yearly bean and maize crops. Many attribute this year's erratic rainfall and excessively hot, dry conditions in Guatemala to an "El Niño" phenomenon intensified by global climate change.
Catholic Relief Services is planning a response that will address the immediate hunger problems while preparing families to endure future drought. Working with local partner the Diocese of Jalapa, CRS hopes to reach more than 8,000 families in some of the hardest-hit communities, including the Department of Jalapa, where there are currently 132 children at risk of dying from malnutrition.
In addition to distributing food to vulnerable children, pregnant women and new mothers, the one-year program would provide education on preventing malnutrition and common diseases. Central to the program would be the use of community health promoters who would visit families at home to help monitor the growth of children and to look for the signs of malnutrition and other childhood illness.
CRS would also provide seeds, tools and training to help families grow gardens and raise livestock so that they have a constant and diverse source of food. Because farmers in the region deal with poor soil quality and are likely to face a lack of water in the future, CRS would teach farming practices focused on conserving soil, protecting water resources and reforestation.
"This current crisis highlights how poor farmers and their families, especially the children, are unable to grow sufficient food due to shifting weather patterns and the deforestation of their land. In addition to providing critical food assistance in this time of need, we must also support farmers in recovering from the failed harvest and reducing their vulnerability in the future," says Karen Latham, head of CRS programs in Guatemala.
Robyn Fieser is CRS' regional information officer for Latin America and the Caribbean based in Guatemala.