United Nations agencies say Guatemala is facing the worst drought in 30 years. They report some 2.5 million people in 21 provinces are affected and in need of urgent food assistance. 

The effects of the weather phenomenon known as El Nino have extended the dry spell in Guatemala, triggering a food crisis in the country.  The drought has caused a reduction and loss of agricultural production. 

The World Food Program says people are suffering from a combination of factors, including high food prices, the global financial crisis, unemployment and recurrent poor food crops.

WFP spokeswoman, Emilia Casella, says this situation is having a bad affect on the nutritional status of the rural poor in Guatemala, particularly women and children. 

"Guatemala has the fourth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world and the highest in Latin America and the Caribbean," she said. "Nearly 50 percent of children under five years old in Guatemala suffer from chronic under-nutrition, which can cause stunting or severe weight loss.  WFP is expecting that the worst-hit families will be about 54,000 families in Guatemala, although the government is estimating the number could be closer to 300,000." 

Casella says WFP so far has managed to distribute food to more than 20,000 families in affected areas.  She says 20 metric tons of high-energy biscuits also are currently being distributed to more than 10,000 families.  In the next few weeks, she says WFP will continue to distribute these biscuits to a further 20,000 families.

She says stocks in Guatemala are at their lowest level in years.  She says WFP currently is providing a special fortified blended food to 100,000 children under three, as well as to 50,000 nursing and pregnant women in 136 communities.

The WFP spokeswoman warns this critically important program will be cut by the end of October unless the agency receives seven million dollars to fund it over the next 12 months.