Guatemala: Red Cross responds to food crisis

Published: 16 September 2009 0:00 CET

Javier Aguayo, IFRC

In response to the high levels of malnutrition in Guatemala, the country's president, Álvaro Colom, has declared a “state of public emergency”. According to the government, 54,000 families are currently at risk of losing their crops and so far 25 children have died from malnutrition. The food shortages are due to the massive loss of crops caused by the severe droughts that have plagued the Central American country in recent months.

The Guatemalan Red Cross, in cooperation with national authorities and with the support of partner National Red Cross Societies already operating in the country, is preparing an assessment in order to identify the needs of the families affected by the food crisis and to provide assistance in the most severely hit areas, including the departments of Baja Verapaz, Progreso, Zacapa, Jalapa, Chiquimula, Santa Rosa and Jutiapa, all situated in the south of the Central American country.

Field assessment

In addition to determining what concrete aid is needed, the initial field assessment will determine the food security situation of the families in terms of food consumption patterns, sources of food and income-generating activities for households. The assessment also seeks to determine how the nutritional status of the population can be improved. The national response teams, formed by around 100 volunteers, have been mobilized in the priority areas.

The information gathered by the Guatemalan Red Cross will be shared and combined with information already collected by the Ministry of Public Health and Social Welfare.

IFRC support

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies has sent an emergency public health officer and a disaster management officer to assist the Guatemalan Red Cross, and the Pan American Disaster Response Unit (PADRU) remains in permanent contact with the National Society to coordinate the activities required to tackle the food crisis.

In addition, 30,000 Swiss Francs (28,907 US dollar; 19,832 euro) have been allocated from the IFRC's Disaster Relief Emergency Fund (DREF) to support the Guatemalan Red Cross activities.

At the same time, the National Societies of the Netherlands, Norway and Spain, which have delegates in Guatemala, are coordinating with the Guatemalan Red Cross on an ongoing basis to support their efforts.