Article by Itai De Roca
Walking through the narrow streets of Guatemala, you will be graced by the beauty of the land and the fascinating culture of its people, many of whom are of Mayan descent. The hills are filled with terraced land and crops are being grown plentifully. Yet a problem remains. Malnutrition has gotten so bad in this country that in some rural areas, as high as 80% of the youth population is underfed.
The problem stems from the sharp income disparity seen between classes, as many farmers are bogged down by living in an archaic sharecropping system. In addition to this, there is a lack of awareness of proper nutrition, fueled by powerful business who thrive on children incessantly using junk foods as a cheaper alternative to rice, beans, and corn which can constitute a strong diet. Even when offered the opportunity to eat healthily, families would rather sell their crops (or food given to them by NGO’s) in order to sustain their meager lifestyles. Since this problem begins at a young age, many Guatemalan children suffer from stunting and irreversible brain damage, trapping them in a vicious cycle. Malnourished children will struggle in school, and fail to equip themselves with the skills necessary to progress or understand a balanced diet. The education system is sorely lacking and classrooms cannot be run when they are full of kids starving. Often, situations necessitate that the child works in the fields rather than go to school.
This issue, however, is not a nationwide one. In Guatemala City, the economy is relatively stable and some live in affluence. The money to help these underprivileged people is present, but not being utilized. Countries like Mexico and Brazil are living proof that cash transfer systems are effective in combating poverty, and the Guatemalan government fails to implement similar programs. This is simply a result of the government's failure to successfully implement tax reform. The government has been inept in combating the large corporations that stand to lose, but it is essential that Guatemala looks past the interests of corporations, and begins to look at the real issue at hand: malnourishment and its detrimental effects on their society.