The Children of Chiquimula

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In Guatemala, severe malnutrition perpetuates one of the highest rates of stunted children in the world — and climate change is making the situation even worse.

  • €10,350 Budget in Euros
  • 2020 Final release date
  • 6 Round winner
  • 1 Location

The Children of Chiquimula

In Guatemala, severe malnutrition perpetuates one of the highest rates of stunted children in the world — and climate change is making the situation even worse.

Harvesting season in Chiquimula in Guatemala’s so-called dry corridor normally runs from April-December, but in recent years, irregular rainy seasons have kept the corn from growing to its fullest. Seeds to grow beans are too expensive for the mostly indigenous families (2/3 of the population live on less than 2$/day), so their food usually lasts until March, followed by a

months long hunger season in which people’s diet consists solely of salted tortillas; for adults and children alike. As a result, every second child in Guatemala is stunted - an adverse fate they share with 149 million children under 5 globally. Rates in Guatemala are among the highest worldwide and reach up to 90% in remote areas like Jocotán where kids starve to death. Those who survive malnutrition in the early years face the risk of developing diminished mental capacity with negative
outcomes for their individual life (they learn slower, earn less, are at higher risk of developing chronic illnesses) but also for society in a country of extraordinary inequality.

Disproportionately affected are the poor Indigenous Maya communities that make up most of the country’s rural farmers. They show twice the rates of stunting of the non-Indigenous population. Their situation worsens as climate change poses new threats to their livelihoods: According to scientists 2019 has been Guatemala’s driest year of the decade with only 65 days of rain. As a result, 78% of all maize grown in the area was lost. As a last resort, people in neighboring villages sell their land to human smugglers to get to the US. In Jocotán, however, farms are too small. Since the government has historically ignored this region people mostly rely on NGOs to survive. Local
(ASEDECHI) and German NGOs don’t only provide food and medical treatment but also education and tools for sustainable farming. The German government supports research being done on food security in areas most affected.

What's strinking: Among Latin America, Guatemala is the only country that has failed to decrease its malnutrition over the past decade — even poorer countries or those with worse income inequality have had more successes in addressing the problem. Peru, for example, managed to halve its stunting rates in children from 28% (2008) to 13% (2016). This project uncovers why this strategy wasn’t adapted to the situation in Guatemala and focuses on the consequences of malnutrition on early childhood development and the resulting challenges for society. As climate change continues to inhibit the growth of food and destroys the livelihood of the people, the project links this cause to the overarching problem of malnutrition and also tackle issues like inequality and indifference shown by the government to fight back this crisis.

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