The hunger that lasts a hundred years

"When a member of the community dies from a lack of food and medicine, we help the family find a box for the cemetery." In three months, in Sector Five of Matasanos, where there are 75 homes, seven of their neighbors have been buried, including a one-year-old girl and a child of eight. As Marta Alicia Suchile Ramirerez, a community leader, says, they had nothing to eat. Neither does resources to buy medicines for pneumonia or diarrhea. Much less for a coffin,

Acute malnutrition – low weight for size – that puts the lives of the most vulnerable, especially children, at risk in Guatemala's Dry Corridor has skyrocketed as the recurring drought destroys the harvests year itself and the next year as well. So since 2012. There's no body to stand it. "They are under-subsistence farmers. They work or cultivate and are unable to survive," summarizes Victor Sosa, humanitarian aid project coordinator at Asedechi, the Chiquimula Socio-Economic Development and Services Association, department in the east of

the country.

The green of the abundant vegetation that can be seen from the house of Joana Hernández Ramírez, on the hill of a mountain and reached by a steep road and dangerous stretches, deceives. It hasn't rained for months, just where the corn her husband grows in his three tasks (each of just over 20 square meters) had to grow. "And that alone gave us," notes a sack of cobs that the family will feed on for only 15 days,

This 23-year-old, a mother of three, you know what it's like to go hungry. Last April, Asedechi held a monitoring session on the nutritional status of children, pregnant and nursing women in their village, Quebradaseca. Her eight-month-old was given moderate acute malnutrition and could be treated with medication. But the median, two-year-old required special attention because of its serious condition, which means risk of death. "I had to be with him for 15 days at the recovery center. She was heartbroken because she believed she would not recover," she says grieving in her thatched house, on her reed bed, without electricity, or a kitchen or bathroom. "We need help getting out of this poor country"


—Where there is money.   

see photogalería PHOTOGALLERY ? Joana Hernández Ramirez is worried that the land the husband grows has barely given a sack of corn, food for 15 days. A. Acute

For three months, Hernandez was one of the recipients of the aid that Asedechi allocated with Oxfam funds to address the food crisis that threatens the lives of the inhabitants of Chiquimula. He received fortified flour and money transfers – 119 quetzals (34 euros) per month per member – to purchase food. "Corn, rice, milk, potato, " he details. With this, they were strengthened and prevented relapse. But he fears that now, without support or harvest, without rain and with a newly installed faucet, but that he does not give a drop of water, his children will again suffer malnutrition. With no real possibility of emigrating, as so many thousands of Guatemalans have made in search of a better destination, her only hope is that her husband will find a job as a day laborer, for which she would be paid 25 quetzals (2.90 euros) per day. In a family of four, that income would nevertheless fall well below the extreme poverty threshold ($1.90 per day per person


In Guatemala, 23.4% of the population was extremely poor in 2014, they failed to cover the cost of a basic food basket to ensure a minimum of calories

Hernandez's is not a rare story in Guatemala, where 23.4% of the population was extremely poor in 2014, they were unable to pay for a basic basket of food to cover a minimum of calories, according to the latest available data from the Institute Statistics National. 8.7% was no more than $1.90, in World Bank terms. Numbers in both cases worse than those of the year 2000, despite the fact that this is a middle-income country with annual GDP growth of 3%. Inequality is increasing, and rural and indigenous populations are pagans,

In the departments of Chiquimula and Baja Verapaz alone, the Asedechi, Oxfam and Corazón de Maíz organizations found that 2.5% of the under-fives had acute malnutrition in 2016, a rate three times higher than the national average. Humanitarian assistance projects implemented up to 2019 have achieved positive results, as the incidence of this evil was reduced to 1.1%, according to their study. Although agricultural losses have worsened: in 2018, drought and torrential rains destroyed between 70 and 80% of crops


Despite the success of such interventions, still "at least 33,312 children require urgent treatment or protection against seasonal hunger and acute malnutrition" in the 81 municipalities of the Guatemalan Dry Corridor, warns the report The starvation (2019) of Oxfam Guatemela. An assessment by the Government, WFP and Unicef in 2018 identified that three million people – 19% of Guatemala's population – suffer from food insecurity, of which more than half a million need assistance. "Climate change is throwing us in the face which was not resolved. It's getting worse and there's a state absence; there is no investment in resolving this crisis," complains Iván Aguilar, Oxfam's humanitarian emergency

manager. // Josefa lives in El Naranjo, a rural community in Guatemala's Corredor Seco. Affected by drought, he faces problems in ensuring his family's diet. One of his sons suffered from acute malnutrition and for a time received help from Oxfam. This is his story Video: Pablo Tosco / Julia Serramitjana (Oxfam Intermón) Photo: Alejandra Agudo

Vilvian Consuela is the youngest of Juana López's eight children, 42. The one-year-old baby fell into acute malnutrition, like two others of her siblings. Their diet was limited to corn tortillas with salt, beans when they could buy it, and they drank contaminated water that the mother was in charge of fetching every day in a stream. Now you know you need to boil it before consuming and preparing a more varied menu. Also you have to cut the nails to the children and keep them clean. Asedechi's workers insist on this at each follow-up visit to check that the status of the small ones improves with the aids they are given. Another point is that when your pantry runs out, and you can only worry about what you're going to eat every day, you can keep these habits,

The conditions of the wooden house, which they share with their hen, with ground floor and the kitchen — a lot of wood on the floor — inside, also do not help. Lack of hygiene and smoke from fire, lead to infectious and respiratory diseases. The lack of water, both for drinking and for personal grooming and cleaning of clothes and clothes, is noticeable. His toilet is a hole in the ground, dirty, but at least outside the house,

The 2018 census reveals that more than half of the country cooks with firewood, 37% has no sanitation and 61% also no drinking water tap inside the house. In this context, it's easy to have diarrhea or catch a cold, pneumonia or tosedera, as they say. These ailments and acute malnutrition are a fatal combination. Going to the health center isn't easy

From the home of Juana López, a house difficult to access in El Naranjo, the route to the clinic is almost an exercise of climbing and descent through valleys and mountains. Although the neighbors are used to going down and climbing the steep paths, doing so with a sick child in tow complicates the journey. Leaving home also means leaving the rest of the children alone, not collecting firewood or water, or cooking for that day. If the father stays in the house to do such tasks, he doesn't work. And if the case is serious and the small one is referred to the nutritional recovery center in the municipality of Jocotán, it costs them 40 quetzals (4.5 euros) to transport back and forth. Two-day wages as a day laborer. A luxury,

Catalina Casiani, 33, has made the effort to go down to the health center in El Naranjo with her one-year-old daughter Micaela. The girl has diarrhea. Glendi Otajaca, one of the clinic's three nursing assistants, hands her some serum envelopes and medications. It explains how to administer them and, by the way, gives you treatment for lice. "Every day we see about 20 or 25 patients. They usually come with body or headache, tonsillitis, diarrhea..." explains the specialist. Medicines for these evils are free, but you don't always have them in the apothecary to give to the sick who rarely come back for them. Today, Casiani got lucky,

The six-month-old cradle of Pastora is a sack tied in a corner of her parents' home, a young couple who dream of changing the walls of straw for sheet metal, but can only think about what they will eat each day. A. Acute

In these communities, family dynamics are common. "The man works three days a week for about 25 or 35 quetzals (about three and four euros) and the woman is in charge of unpaid tasks such as hauling water, looking for firewood and caring for children," says Sosa. "They can only think about eating every day." This is the main concern of Timothy, 28, and her husband Antonio Martínez, 27. "We are poor here, as we say," she says. He doesn't exaggerate. Your home is built with straw, ideal home for disease-transmitting insects, such as dengue. Inside there is a wood fire to cook and her six-month-old girl, Pastora, sleeps in a sack hanging in a corner. It's not a toy, it's his crib. The sister, of four, shares a wooden bed with her parents. 

"I'd like to have a house. Right here, but with foils and irons," the mother says. It's a dream. Martinez works as a day laborer in the coffee cut, but he's been out of work for three weeks. "Production has fallen because of the plague of rust that has reached high ground that it previously did not reach. They work less and charge less because of the price crash in the international market," says Aguilar, of Oxfam Guatemala. In practice, for this marriage means an empty dish. "If there's no work, we don't eat," the father reasons. When there is employment, Martínez earns between 100 and 200 quetzals per week (from 12 to 24 euros). "We bought beans, sugar, corn, and ropita for children," she notes. What doesn't usually happen, it nuances. That's why, because her baby suffered from acute malnutrition, she received help for three months. But his last reserves ran out two weeks ago,

In the opinion of Victor Sosa of Asedechi, the solution is to introduce crops that withstand drought and generate income. "But we're not going to make it, they've got the corn and the bean stuck in their heads and they just sow that," he sits. It would also help to attract some industry, besides coffee, that generates jobs. This requires a higher level of education. Primary is guaranteed, but the secondary is not. "Many minus a career," he adds. Garcia and Martinez can't read or write. In the country, 15% of men and 22% of women are illiterate. But it is more common in rural and indigenous communities

. // Lucas is a farmer in Guatemala's Dry Corridor. Due to climate change and rain shortages, the maize and bean it grows no longer as it used to, affecting your family's food security. One of his sons fell into acute malnutrition, so he received help from Oxfam for a time. This is his story Pablo Tosco / Julia Serramitjana (Oxfam Intermón)

The other malnutrition that doesn't kill, but sentences for life

Guatemala afflicts another crisis with food. A slow, invisible one that doesn't kill, but destroys futures. It is chronic malnutrition that affects 46.5% of its children, making it the most impacted country in Latin America and the Caribbean. Also known as stunting because the lack of sufficient nutrients during early childhood, especially the first thousand days — from conception to age two — prevents normal physical and cognitive development, decreases at such a rate Guatemala will take 73 years to reach the level of Costa Rica, which has 6%,

"Between 1995 and 2015, chronic malnutrition was reduced by 8.5%. At that rate it would take a century to eradicate the problem," reports Between Soil and Sky, by Oxfam Guatemala. This insufficient progress is also very unequal. In impoverished and indigenous regions, stunting is greater and increasing. This is what NGO researchers have found in the departments of Chiquimula and Baja Verapaz: in just three years, the percentage of children under five affected rose from 60.7% in 2016 to 67.8% in 2019. That's an increase of 6.9 percent

46.5% of children in Guatemala are chronically malnourished, it is the highest rate in Latin America and the Caribbean

Organizations detect this problem by conducting nutritional monitoring sessions—in which they control weight, size, age, health status—in communities. The goal is to save the lives of children at risk from acute malnutrition. But their data reflect what is noticeable to the naked eye: most of them are several centimeters shorter than they would be entitled to their age. A drama that, from the age of five, is already irreversible,

It's not just a height problem. Women, in giving birth, will be more likely to suffer problems during childbirth, including the baby's death, due to its smaller body size. Their weakened immune system will not be able to defend them from many diseases. And their lower cognitive ability will make it difficult for them to understand lessons at school, which will cause them to leave prematurely or take longer than usual to complete a cycle. As adults, the same will happen to them in their work, if they get one; because of their diminished skills, they will be charged less,

"This country has an anchor in its development", analyzes Miguel González Gullón, head of the Spanish Cooperation in Guatemala. Getting rid of ballast is only possible through prevention. "It has to be done in an integral way. Not only via income generation, but guaranteeing safe water and access to food, favoring behavioral changes and with primary care with sufficient equipment and personnel, in line with the Welfare State," he said. In these subjects his office works. "We generate small differences in communities where the state does not reach.

González comments on the difficulties of stopping putting Band-Aids and getting the state to take the reins of the fight against malnutrition. "The fiscal pressure is one of the lowest in the world, 10% of GDP. With this figure it is impossible to have better indicators," he reasoned. Guatemala not only redistributes little through the public, but also its investment in items as important as eradicating malnutrition as health is insufficient. It hardly allocates 2.2% of GDP to health, well below the minimum 6% recommended by WHO, and it also does it wrong. According to the Inter-American Development Bank, this country has the most inefficient healthcare in the region. 

"There are officials and technicians who have an interest and willingness to make things better. But those who make the decisions don't. They are concerned about their commissions or repeating in power," Oxfam's Sab Aguilar. In the hope of budgets for 2020, the NGO is examining which items are expendable in order to increase spending against malnutrition per child from 2.3 (0.30 euro cents) to 12 (1.40 euros). A little battle of many. So the war doesn't last a century,