Central America drought worsens hunger, UN says
"These recurring droughts - and other natural disasters - leave poor families with no crops to feed themselves," Zoraida Mesa, regional director of the U.N. World Food Programme (WFP), the world's largest food aid agency, said in a statement.
"After years of natural disasters in Central America, many of these families have nothing left to sell, nothing left to cultivate, and nothing left to eat. Many are going hungry."
WFP, which has carried out a survey into food supplies in Central America, estimates that 8.6 million people live in the rural areas of a "drought corridor", deprived of rain during the May to August planting and harvesting season.
Many of the residents of this drought corridor are extremely poor, living on relatively infertile land.
"Mesa noted that not all 8.6 million residents living in the drought corridor are affected by a natural disaster every year, but certain pockets have been traumatised year after year," Rome-based WFP said in a statement.
While droughts affect the largest swathes of land, disasters such as the mudslides in Guatemala last month, or the 2000 earthquake in El Salvador, affect the same vulnerable areas, the organisation said.
The survey found that children under five are particularly hard hit by living in the drought corridor.
"In these drought areas, children commonly face prolonged and repeated exposure to malnutrition," Mesa said.
"This leads to stunted physical and intellectual growth which is extremely difficult to overcome later in life."
Chronic malnutrition affects 23 percent of the population in El Salvador, 33 percent in Nicaragua, 38 percent in Honduras and 48 percent in Guatemala, WFP said.
In early 2002, WFP had to deliver emergency food aid to 6,000 children in Guatemala who were acutely malnourished and near death.
The hunger was caused by the combination of two years of drought and rural unemployment.