Guatemala Food Security Alert: July 23, 2008

Situation Report
Originally published
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Above–normal rains in June and July from tropical storm Arthur and the low pressure systems that followed caused heavy precipitation in the northern departments of Izabal, Alta Verapaz, and the south of Petén, saturating soil, damaging crops, and raising river levels to maximum capacity. Eastern portions of Guatemala, particularly Chiquimula, Zacapa, Baja Verapaz, Jalapa, and El Progreso, that had been experiencing below– normal rainfall in May and June also began receiving excessive rainfall in July (377 percent of the historic average for the month). Above– normal rainfall in both these areas has caused damage to or loss of staple and cash crops, precipitated landslides, damaged infrastructure, and led to the deaths of at least 17 people. Government and other institution action is needed to improve access to potable water and prevent vector–borne diseases, and rebuild roads, bridges, and other essential infrastructure to re– establish access to affected areas. Food assistance to households who lost crops in affected areas is also needed for at least the next four months, until the next harvest is available. Distribution of seeds and tools to the most affected areas for re– sowing activities is also recommended.

Forecasts in both of these areas for the next seven days indicate cumulative precipitation of up to 150 mm, increasing the likelihood of flooding, landslides, and additional crop losses. Rainfall is also expected to increase for the rest of the country during this time, especially in central and western areas. While these areas have not experienced rains as heavy as those in the north and the east, they are also facing saturated soil and terrain that is prone to landslides, especially in the highlands. River levels in these areas are also high, increasing the likelihood of overflow, particularly in the lower portions of the watersheds (south coast).

In all of these areas, food and nutrition security is likely to be affected by crop losses, water contamination and related increases in diarrhea and vector– borne diseases such as malaria and dengue. Floods and mudslides are also likely to impact infrastructure and physical access to communities, markets, and health care. In the coastal areas, heavy swells will also likely negatively affect fishing conditions at a time when fishing is normally very good.

Figure 1. Livelihood zones affected by heavy rainfall and percentages of cumulative rainfall compared to average

Sources: Map - MFEWS Guatemala; Station rainfall data July 2008 – INSIVUMEH; Satellite rainfall data - NOAA

Affected livelihood zones (Figure 1) are likely to face a longer– than– normal lean season (normally from April–August/September; this year potentially extending to December), increasing their dependence on food purchases. The zones most affected by these above– normal rains depend on their own production for 20 to 80 percent of their annual food supply. Current high prices for the basic food basket (from Q 1,600 in June 2007 to Q 1.875 in June 2008) are likely to reduce poor households’ access to food even more. If agro– industrial crops (banana, coffee, cardamom, melon/watermelon, African palm) are also damaged as a result of heavy rains, demand for unskilled agricultural labor might also be reduced. This will affect income for most poor households in the rainfall– affected livelihood zones, since they depend on these activities for 60 to 98 percent of their total income. Approximately 1,335,000 people are at risk of food insecurity as a result of these heavy rains and their impacts on agricultural production and other livelihoods (e.g., fishing).

The Mesoamerican Food Security Early Warning System (MFEWS) issues alerts to prompt decision-maker action to prevent or mitigate potential or actual food insecurity. The views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Agency for International Development or the United States Government.