Malnutrition in Guatemala is devastating for children - Doctors of the World

Malnutrition in Guatemala is devastating for children


of deaths among Guatemalan children under the age of 5 is linked to undernutrition.


of children under five years of age suffer from childhood malnutrition (and growth retardation).


of the indigenous population live in extreme poverty.

One in two minors suffers from chronic malnutrition in Guatemala. Guatemala is the first country in Latin America and the sixth in the world in cases of child malnutrition. Doctors of the World Spain warns that malnutrition is especially exacerbated in children under five years old. More than four million people do not receive adequate food in the country, who base their diet on corn.

“ It is a cycle of malnutrition. Since we have mothers who were malnourished girls, who grow up malnourished adolescents and are malnourished pregnant, then malnourished boys and girls are born as well, ” warns Estefania Turpin, medical coordinator for Doctors of the World in the country. 

In the first months of the year, the country has reported 4,049 cases of minors with acute malnutrition. In the department of Alta Verapaz, where Doctors of the World has been working for 27 years, it occupies one of the first places in mortality due to acute and chronic malnutrition. 

Guatemala’s malnutrition crisis stems from structural inequalities in the country, which have been further exacerbated by recent events. The climate crisis has also been a key factor in this crisis. Guatemala’s dry corridor had experienced a drought for six years, leaving the area impoverished and highly susceptible to catastrophic extreme weather events such as storms, torrential rain, flash floods, droughts and heatwaves. Hurricanes Eta and Iota in 2020 had significant effects on Guatemala’s population, destroying 700,000 hectares of crops and displacing 339,000 people. Indigenous communities have experienced the brunt of these effects. 

The aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the war between Russia and Ukraine, have also had a significant impact on the country, as the increase in the prices of food, fuel and fertilizers is making it difficult to access food resources, coupled with poor harvests due to weather disasters. 

According to the latest Humanitarian Needs Overview (HNO) index, prepared by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, food and nutrition assistance needs are at their highest historical levels: some 4.6 million of people are food insecure and need immediate attention, mainly families of subsistence and sub-subsistence farmers and families with minimal or no income. 



And among those more than four million people, around 1.9 million have humanitarian needs related to acute malnutrition, including children under five years of age, women of childbearing age and pregnant women, the elderly and people with disabilities. “In addition, people with chronic diseases and functional diversities are a particularly vulnerable population to malnutrition,” says Turpin. 

It is here where Doctors of the World offers its humanitarian response to the populations most affected by the increase in food prices and the recurring catastrophes in the Dry Corridor of Central America, with recurring droughts and floods, specifically in the communities of Telemán and San Pedro de Carchá, in Alta Vera Paz. We work on a food security project, reinforcing primary care and nutritional health actions, especially during the seasonal lean season that runs from April to August. The program is run with the financial support of ECHO and the Albacete City Council.  

“ We, as public health, provide health care, follow up, and deliver treatments. Doctors of the World supports us financially and with a comprehensive approach to recover these babies ” says Fernanda Patzan, nutritionist at the Guatemalan Ministry of Health.