The United Nations Food Program has extended its emergency operation for malnourished children in Guatemala until February of 2003. The continued program announced Thursday will give food donations to vulnerable families and attends to severely malnourished children in hospitals and nutritional centers around the country.
The extension of the World Food Program's emergency operation adds five more months of life onto a project launched here last spring in the face of a severe drought.
So far, program officials say, the emergency program has been able to save the lives of some 7,000 children who were treated for sever and moderate forms of acute malnutrition in Guatemala's impoverished and drought-stricken countryside.
Nonetheless, says Zoraida Mesa, the World Food Program's director for Latin America and the Caribbean, there is still more work to be done. She said the extension was granted because of the urgent need program officials have detected among Guatemala's most vulnerable group, children, who are going through difficult times. She said she hopes the program extension will allow the World Food Program to continue saving children's lives.
Last year a severe drought hit eastern Guatemala causing nearly total loss of crops for many farmers. This year there has been slightly more rain, but the cumulative effects of two dry years, back to back, are taking their toll on many family's ability to put food on the table for their children.
Using international donations and in cooperation with the Guatemalan government the program has so far attended some 20,000 families and hopes to attend an equal number in the next phase. The United States government is the largest donor to the program.
This is the first time, in many years, that World Food Program has to implement this type of emergency program in the region.