Guatemala market

A Country in Hunger: The Impact of Covid-19 in Guatemala

We are fundraising for the Covid-19 Emergency Relief Effort in Guatemala. Learn more on our Just Giving page.

Guatemala is superlatively hungry. The struggle against COVID-19 has left it even hungrier. It is the country which suffers from the highest rate of malnutrition in Latin America; by many accounts, it is the hungriest country in the western hemisphere. Malnutrition and chronic malnutrition run rampant. Children under the age of five are particularly affected, running high risks of physical and intellectual stunting from nutritional deprivation early in development.

“The prevalence of stunting in children under 5 is one of the highest in the world – and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean,” writes the UN World Food Programme on their website. “At 46.5 percent nationally, the stunting rate climbs up to 70 percent in some departments, with peaks as high as 90 percent in the hardest hit municipalities.”

Guatemalan girl

Guatemala’s hunger has grown even deeper during the COVID-19 crisis. Extreme measures have been taken to close the country in order to stretch limited health resources as far as possible. Many are out of work, and flows of capital to Guatemala have bottomed out.

"Four in ten Guatemalans make their money from informal economy"

Two months of shutdown have left the economy devastated. Four in ten Guatemalans make their money from the informal economy, which is still almost entirely frozen. Most public transport is still shut down. With internal travel restricted and international travel frozen, the tourism sector has collapsed. Restaurants and bars across the country are closed. Malls are shuttered, access to markets is limited, and the retail sector continues to slump under the weight of emergency coronavirus restrictions.

Guatemalan women

Remittances, a major part of the Guatemalan economy, have also dropped off significantly. Guatemalans in the United States sent home more than 10 billion dollars in 2019, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Community leaders from the town of Cajola told the Monitor that remittances represent a full three quarters of the money flowing into the town. The International Monetary Fund estimates that remittances represent 12% of Guatemala’s gross domestic product. They’re a major plank of the economy here, propping up everything from basic needs to the construction of houses. Because of the global economic downturn and Covid-19 in Guatemala, remittances are expected to drop some 20% this year.

The Giammattei government has earmarked some 1.4 billion dollars in economic aid. The North American Congress on Latin America, however, estimates that only .5% of that aid has actually been distributed. The government has distributed basic food staples in the form of 200,000 food boxes to marginalized communities. They estimate that 1.2 million people have received aid. It’s not clear that the distribution of food staples represents anything more than a one-time benefit.

Covid-19 in Guatemala

"Hospitals are full, patients are sleeping on the floor"

And, while some semblance of economic aid is filtering through from the national government, it doesn’t look like relief will be forthcoming for the health system either. Guatemala has only .6 doctors per capita, one of the lowest figures of the region. It has two medium-sized modern hospitals and a piecemeal network of other facilities for a population of 17 million people. A recent report from the magazine Nomada painted a grim picture of the situation: hospitals are full, patients are sleeping on the floor, and the sedative needed to intubate seriously ill patients is in short supply. Doctors haven’t been paid in more than two months. Meanwhile, the number of daily cases continues to climb; as of this writing, the most recent figure saw 471 cases added in a day -- the highest number recorded since Guatemala saw its first positive test.

Covid-19 in Guatemala has led to a deadly battle against a virus and against hunger. Help us raise funds for those hit hardest. Learn more on our Just Giving page.

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