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GUATEMALA
Drought again threatens famine
3/11/2010
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El Niño brings dry weather, threatening food supply.

The late rainy season this year caused by El Niño is expected to further strain food supplies in Guatemala, where drought-caused famine killed hundreds last year.

The United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Right to Food, Olivier De Schutter, said the lower rainfall and food shortages could affect 2 million people in the impoverished country of 14 million.

René Mauricio Valdés, the UN´s Guatemala representative, said in a press conference in Geneva that the rains, which generally begin in May, will likely begin in the second half of the year, worsening the drought and killing important crops.

Guatemala´s Food Security Secretary Lily Caravantes said that last year, 145,000 families lost their crops and that the situation could worsen this year with the delay in the start of the rainy season.

In September, President Álvaro Colom decreed a "state of public calamity" amid the food crisis.

Guatemala has the highest level of malnutrition in Latin America, and the fourth worldwide, as 43 percent of children under five do not have enough to eat, according to the United Nations.  

Last year, 240 adults died of starvation in the country´s "Dry Corridor" — the departments of Baja Verapaz, Chiquimula, El Progreso, Santa Rosa, Zacapa, Jutiapa and Jalapa — mainly women and 54 children, a figure that could rise this year. Between January and February, the government recorded 4,000 cases of severe malnutrition in this region.

The United Nations says 77 percent of the families in this area used up their food reserves, and that their corn — a staple crop — has been destroyed. Nearly 20 percent of Guatemalans have been affected by the drought, the worst in 30 years.

Valdés said that climate change has become more pronounced, especially in Guatemala, one of the "10 countries most vulnerable to climate change in the world."

De Schutter recommended the government increase social programs and raise the minimum wage of 56 quetzales (US$7) a day.
—Latinamerica Press.


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