February 26, 2021

The tragedy and the agony of child malnutrition in Guatemala

María is four years old and at noon she has returned to eating tortillas with salt. Only with salt. This is a sample of the tragedy that chronic malnutrition in children supposes in Guatemala. A scourge that affects 1 in 2 children under the age of five.

This was recalled this week by a new report, "Chronic child malnutrition in Guatemala: a tragedy that the political debate should not avoid", jointly prepared by the Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies, Oxfam and the Swedish Embassy in Guatemala.

The objective of this document, which analyzes the social and technical reality of this problem, is to give practical material with solid technical support to the two finalists of the presidential election, the social democrat Sandra Torres and the center-right candidate Alejandro Giammattei, and the 160 citizens that will integrate the next term (2020-2024).


In general terms, chronic malnutrition in children under 5 years of age decreased from 49.8% in the 2008-2009 period to 46.5% in 2014-2015, while the incidence of severe chronic malnutrition went from 21, 2% to 16.6% in the same period.

But this decline is "too slow" and causes that at present, according to the estimations of this document, it is calculated that there are some 890,000 children under 5 years suffering from chronic malnutrition in Guatemala, with an increase of 6.7% of incidence in seven municipalities of the Dry Corridor, one of the areas most affected by the climate crisis.

The situation is worse in rural and indigenous communities, where the rates are even higher and where inequality prevails with them: the poorest populations suffer the most from child malnutrition.

A UNICEF report said it last year. Of the 7 million children and adolescents under the age of 17 in the country, some three million are identified as indigenous and most of them are disadvantaged.

Inequalities in indigenous children are recurrent throughout their life cycle and in all areas, even before they were born. Eight out of ten live in poverty and 60% of children under five have chronic malnutrition, compared to 35% that affects the mestizo population.

Schooling rates, which are also influenced by hunger, at all levels are always lower. Of every ten indigenous girls and adolescents, only six finish primary school, two secondary school and one access university.

And this is due, among other factors, to the low distribution of wealth and low state investment: one dollar for each child, 30 cents if it is indigenous.


When analyzing the action of the Government during the last 15 years, the report concludes that the measures and policies adopted have been "insufficient". From the "Growing Well" program in 2004 to the "Growing Healthy" program of 2019, the problem has kept cutting the rights of the youngest ones.

A low stature, structural damage to the brain, a low schooling rate or increased chances of losing courses are some of the tangible effects on a day-to-day basis.

Public spending on Food and Nutrition Security has not been a priority in recent years: it fell from its historical peak in 2010, 1.78% of GDP, to 0.94% in 2016. And although it was reversed in the In recent years, until rising again to 1.49% for this course, the "inefficiency and difficulty" of the Government to implement it transparently "point to a lower level".

In fact, Oxfam and the National Institute of Public Health of Mexico have described as "ineffective" the National Strategy for the Reduction of Chronic Malnutrition of the Government of President Jimmy Morales.


Although awareness of this problem has increased, it is "discouraging" that none of the political measures presented by the candidates to run the country have technical support: without goals, without detailing costs and without knowing how they will obtain financing for their implementation. That is why they are described as "not very credible" and "dangerously close to demagogy".

That is why the document proposes a series of measures to be taken into account by the future Government. Among this list of proposals is a greater commitment from both the next authorities and the deputies of the next legislature, expressing their support for the Parliamentary Front Against Hunger.

They also ask the future president to create a public policy to eradicate chronic malnutrition, in which all sectors of society have a place, make public spending transparent or establish as a priority "to review, strengthen and, if necessary, recover state institutions. with mandates, faculties and responsibilities "in matters of nutritional food security.

And the strengthening of the programs involves an increase in public spending. In this sense, it establishes as the first goal for 2020 to reach and surpass a Public Expenditure on Food and Nutrition Security of 1.78% of GDP executed in 2010, the recent historical maximum.


At the current rate, Guatemala would need up to 90 years to reach the chronic infant malnutrition rate of 14% that El Salvador had in 2014.

The Fifth Report on the State of the Region, presented in 2016, said that in the coming decades Central America will have the highest percentage of the population with the highest productive age in its history, known as the demographic bonus, and this is a "unique opportunity" for the The region promotes economic and social growth, achieving the desired development.

This demographic bonus, in which the active population grows steadily and faster than dependent people, will last until 2020 in Costa Rica and Panama, 2030 in El Salvador, 2035 in Belize, Honduras and Nicaragua and 2050 in Guatemala.

(tagsToTranslate) tragedia (t) agonia (t) desnutricion (t) infantil (t) Guatemala

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