Worst drought in Guatemala in decades affecting 2.5 million people, UN reports

18 September 2009

Some 2.5 million Guatemalans have been affected by the worst drought to hit the Central American country in 30 years, with hundreds of thousands, including many pregnant women and children, facing severe hunger, the United Nations reported today.

UN agencies are currently assessing health, nutrition, food and livelihood needs in the country, where President Álvaro Colom last week appealed to international donors for aid, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in an update on the crisis.

The dry spell has been exacerbated by the El Niño weather pattern, a warming of surface waters in the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean that spawns severe droughts in parts of the world and floods in others, leading to losses in agricultural production affecting some 2.5 million people in 21 provinces across Guatemala.

Pest infestations have also reduced food supply, causing the highest price rise since 2007. In the so-called dry corridor along the Pacific, 25 children have reportedly died so far, but information is still being compiled by the Ministry of Health. It is estimated that 30 per cent of all pregnant women in the corridor are malnourished.

The Government intends to provide food and non-food aid to some 54,000 families in the corridor at an estimated cost of $17 million, and has requested aid for some 410,800 families, estimated to cost $100 million. The plan includes food, and support for productive infrastructure and to restore livelihood.

OCHA's Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean has deployed a regional disaster response adviser.

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Country Team have developed a tool for rapid needs assessment in the areas of health, nutrition, food security and livelihood, and assessment missions are continuing.

Last week WFP warned that money only exists to provide food aid to some tens of thousands of families until the end of September, including fortified food for 100,000 children under the age of three and 50,000 pregnant-lactating women. Almost half of all Guatemalan children under five suffer from stunting as a result of chronic under-nutrition. The number of children being admitted to hospital for acute malnutrition has tripled in recent months.


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