Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Greetings from Guatemala: Central America Begins Another Deadly Season of Drought. (Margin Notes)

Magazine article U.S. Catholic

Greetings from Guatemala: Central America Begins Another Deadly Season of Drought. (Margin Notes)

Article excerpt

THE SMALL CHILD REGARDS HER VISITORS WITH shining eyes and a happy, if slightly perplexed, smile. Her thin body held rigidly against the back of a baby's chair, she is no bigger than a toddler herself, though a staffer from our hosts on this poverty tour of Guatemala, Catholic Relief Services, assures the visiting journalists the child is 6 years old. Another little girl pushes herself up unsteadily from a blanket lying across the floor of this "therapeutic feeding center" in Jocotan, in southeastern Guatemala.

This child is no bigger than a 15-month-old infant. We're informed that she is, in fact, 3 years old. "These kids are all completely off [the normal] growth charts," says Lydia Ayers, the CRS senior program manager in Guatemala.

A few steps away, an indigenous woman is feeding her 2-year-old daughter. Her child is as tiny as a newborn and has been brought into the feeding center last-ditch effort to keep her alive. The CRS team happened upon the emaciated child and her mother at a mountainside food distribution this same morning near El Chucte mountain, in Guatemala's department of Chiquimula.

This little girl is lucky; she at least has a chance. In the surrounding hills are an untold number of other starving children who are not as fortunate and may not survive the coming months. Ayers says there is no way of knowing how many children are actually dying as a result of the ongoing drought in Guatemala and other Central American nations.

"They don't tell us about a lot of the children [who die]," she says, explaining that many families in these Mayan communities simply bury these smallest victims of hunger in their villages, too embarrassed or afraid to tell authorities or relief workers. Official tallies of the dead and hungry as a result are likely to represent an undercount of the true misery being experienced in the countryside, but the United Nation's World Food Program estimates that in Guatemala alone as many as 60,000 children under 5 are malnourished while 6,000 are in immediate peril of death by starvation.

This is a nation well used to calamity. The country is in many ways still recovering from the mayhem wrought by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Just emerging from almost 40 years of civil war that claimed the lives of 200,000 and displaced many times that figure, this nation of 12 million is far from coming to terms with its violent past. …

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