A hunger crisis forces Guatemalans to choose: migration or death

Nina Strochlic writes in National Geographic about the challenges facing the poor in Guatemala during a time of crisis. Child hunger and malnutrition is a scourge, and is an indictment of the lack of government responsibility in a country of enormous wealth and inequality. The elites care nothing for the poor in Guatemala. The photos are moving and are by Daniele Volpe.


Marimba music from a radio did little to lighten the mood as Rosalía García splashed her daughter, Floria, with water from a plastic tub one morning this spring. Puddles formed on the dirt floor. Rosalía flicked her long black ponytail over her shoulder and handed the baby to her mother-in-law, Sebastiana Amador, who pulled socks onto her granddaughter’s feet. The baby’s tiny face reminded Sebastiana of her own daughter. She was eight and weighed 37 pounds when she died four years ago.

Now it was time to seek help for Floria. Visitors to the family’s home had remarked on the girl’s stunted size. At nine months she looked half her age. They urged Rosalía to take her baby to a government recuperation centre, two towns away, established to treat malnourished children. But no one had told Rosalía how to get there or offered to take her, and so this morning she was headed to the nurse in her own village. She stuffed soap, toothpaste, and a change of clothes into a striped tote bag slung over one shoulder and hugged Floria against the other.

“I don’t know when I’ll be back,” she told her mother-in-law, setting off on foot up a steep dirt path leading to the road.

In Tisipe, a mountainside village in eastern Guatemala, and in many communities around it, hunger is a familiar feeling. Nearly half of Guatemalan children under the age of five are underweight, according to government data, giving the country the sixth-highest rate of malnutrition in the world. And this past year, a series of droughts, hurricanes, and the economic devastation that came with the COVID-19 pandemic has left this region—known as the dry corridor, or corredor seco—in shambles.

What was once seasonal hunger is becoming an almost permanent condition here. Those who can afford to are fleeing to the United States, where the number of migrants attempting to cross the southern border has reached a 20-year high in the first six months of 2021. The majority of migrants come from what’s known as the Northern Triangle: Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Those who don’t have the means to leave are struggling to keep their children alive.

To understand the slow-motion disaster that’s pushing Guatemalans out of their homes and on the long, dangerous journey north, Tisipe is a good place to start. At first glance, the dry corridor looks lush. Mountains are covered in banana trees and coffee plants, and vivid blue and yellow birds swoop through the dense foliage. But the ground is rocky and parched. It has offered little more than subsistence to generations of farmers who tend their ancestors’ land in a region called Chiquimula, long occupied by the Ch’orti’ Maya, one of Guatemala’s two dozen Indigenous groups.


You can read the full piece, with the photos, here, A hunger crisis forces Guatemalans to choose: migration or death.



Categories: Environment, Evictions, Gender, Guatemala, Human Rights, Indigenous peoples, Land, Migration, Natural Disaster, Poverty, Violence

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