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WFP Appeals for Guatemala Food Aid - 2002-04-10

The United Nations World Food Program (WFP) says 60,000 severely malnourished children in Guatemala are in urgent need of international assistance. WFP says 6,000 of these children are in imminent danger of dying.

The World Food Program says at least 126 children have died of hunger in Guatemala in the last eight months. And it warns that thousands of other severely malnourished children could meet the same fate.

WFP spokeswoman Christiane Berthiaume says 6,000 children are just skin and bones and their outlook is very grim. She says there is significant chronic malnutrition throughout Latin America. But she says it is extremely rare and alarming to find so many cases of extreme malnutrition.

"The situation is deteriorating at a fast rate in Guatemala," said Ms. Berthiaume. "Two years ago, the estimation of the children suffering from severe and acute malnutrition was 2.5 percent of children that were under five. Now, it is 16 percent. So the deterioration is phenomenal."

Guatemala has suffered a series of natural catastrophes over the past few years. Hurricane Mitch devastated the country in 1998. This was followed by two years of consecutive drought.

Ms. Berthiaume says poor farmers were forced to eat their food reserves to survive. And now, she says they have nothing left. In addition, she notes 500,000 people have lost their jobs because of the dramatic fall in coffee prices on the world market. The WFP spokeswoman says the agency launched an appeal for $5 million in March to buy food for 60,000 malnourished children and their families.

"Since March, we have not a single contribution from donor countries, from Europe, from the United States, from Canada. Nobody sent us anything," said Ms. Berthiaume, "and we feel very sad about that because they really need your help right now."

Ms. Berthiaume says the only money WFP has received is individual contributions of $25-$50. While this generosity is very touching, she says it is not enough to feed thousands of destitute, hungry children, nor to prevent many of them from dying.