The rainy season has watered crops in Guatemala, but relief workers and food experts say the rainfall has done little to help the country recover from a major drought that's aggravated malnutrition rates and already claimed dozens of lives this year.
"It's not a hurricane, but it is an emergency -- a slow-moving emergency," said Alejandro Lopez-Chicheri, a spokesman for the World Food Program. "The harvest season is happening now, but the crops aren't going to be good for sustenance farmers, and that reduces the amount of food they have."
Concerns over worsening malnutrition rates in the Central American nation come as nutrition experts and others meet to commemorate World Food Day on Friday, a day aimed at raising awareness of hunger around the globe.
Those same experts are using the annual event to highlight just how much the combination of high food prices and the global economic crisis have pushed the number of hungry people worldwide to historic levels. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, more than one billion people are undernourished. A slowdown in remittances has also aggravated hunger.
Just as Haiti experienced food-related riots last year, Guatemala is seeing hunger problems of its own. Already a perennial concern in Guatemala, malnutrition has been especially visible in the country's southeastern region on the Pacific Coast -- also known as the dry corridor. With El Niño warming the Pacific waters, Guatemala has seen the worst drought in 30 years, which destroyed staple crops, exacerbated hunger, and claimed the lives of more than a dozen children in July alone.
More than 460 people have died of malnutrition so far this year, government officials say. UNICEF reports that almost half of Guatemala's children under five suffer from chronic malnutrition, among the highest rate in the world.
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