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January 2002 issue of
World Press Review
(VOL. 49, No. 1)
World Press Review contributing editor
shortages after a succession of poor harvests caused by severe
drought conditions over the past three years have pushed rural
populations across a broad swath of Central America to the brink
of starvation, regional commentators warn.
In what officials call the worst disaster since Hurricane
Mitch in 1998, a summer drought destroyed crops across Central
America and left thousands of farmers awash in debt and famine,
Megan Feldman reported in the Lima-based Latinamerica Press
(Nov. 6). The rains came too late, and farmers can find
little work outside their fields since low coffee prices shut
down scores of plantations.
Blanche Petrich, correspondent for Mexico Citys La
Jornada (Oct. 3), observed in a series of reports from Guatemala
that what is devastating Central America technically is
not a famine, the term that the experts use for
the complete absence of foods in a region....From eastern Guatemala,
across Honduras and El Salvador and all the way to the Pacific
coast of Nicaragua, the starving wander through well-stocked
markets and beg alms along the roadside, Petrich reported.
About one-quarter of all municipalities in the region currently
suffer high rates of chronic malnutrition, she writes,
60 percent in Guatemala alone.
The United Nations World Food Program issued an urgent
appeal in August for mobilization of emergency grain shipments
to Central America to assist an estimated 700,000 people at
risk of imminent starvation this winter, but Petrich wrote (Oct.
6) that shipments prior to Sept. 11 had covered less than
one-third of the grain reserves considered as the minimum
required to meet the food emergency in Central America.
The abrupt refocusing of international assistance programs to
address looming food shortages in Afghanistan following the
Sept. 11 terrorist attacks are bound to have a negative
impact on the flow of aid to Central America in the near
term, relief specialist Roque Castro told Petrich. But Castro
expressed confidence that if we bring evidence of this
crisis to public atttention, the emergency that exists here
will return to the focus of international attention.
Emergency food assistance may come too late for thousands of
campesino households in the Guatemalan interior who lost most
or all of their spring plantings of corn, a critical staple
in the diet of the rural population. In most towns it
will have a domino effect, Petrich wrote in La Jornada
(Oct. 3), because the collapse in campesino savings also
left nothing for seed to plant beans or for the winter (corn)
cycle. In other words, this is not a short-term food crisis;
rather, as virtually all the experts emphasize..., it is only
Following torrential rains and widespread flooding in late October
that wrought further devastation, La Prensa of San Pedro
Sula (Nov. 1) cautioned Hondurans that they cannot depend on
an outpouring of international support similar to the relief
effort mobilized in the wake of Hurricane Mitch three years
Rather than feeling weak and discouraged...and complaining
as if to hide our negligence and incapacity, the situation is
highly favorable to realize...our human resources that have
proved on other occasions to be equal to our needs, La
Prensa Libre of Guatemala City (Oct. 31) observed in
an editorial that a public meeting in late October of Guatemalan
government ministers with international agency representatives
represented a useful first step toward addressing the
pauperization that affects a steadily growing percentage of
What is most important, the paper said, is
to have recognized not only the existence of levels of poverty
comparable to those of Bangladesh and Mozambique, but the fact
that it is impossible for the country and the government to
attack the problem without help.