IFRC: Focus on Guatemala 2003

Situation Report
Originally published


1. Introduction
Guatemala is one of the poorest countries in the Americas region with only Haiti ranking lower on the Human Development Index (HDI). The country is made up of 25 linguistic groups including 22 Mayan languages, however, Spanish is the only official language. Unofficial estimates suggest that up to 60% of the population is indigenous with most of this population concentrated in the western and northern regions of the country. It is in the departments where most of the indigenous population live that the highest levels of poverty are to be found.

After 36 years of conflict, peace was restored to the country with the signing of peace agreements in 1996. Sadly, many of the objectives of the peace accords have not been met and a climate of violence and social disruption persists. The government appears poorly equipped to meet many of the demands of its people and accusations of state corruption and malpractice abound.

Vulnerability is further exacerbated by Guatemala's susceptibility to natural disaster. 30 active volcanoes, frequent earthquakes and heavy rainfall cause serious erosion and environmental degradation while fires devastate large areas of prime forest every year. In 1998, hurricane Mitch caused severe country-wide destruction and in 2001 and 2002 many of the poorest communities have been affected by severe drought or localized flooding, further compounding food and economic insecurity.

The Guatemalan Red Cross (GRC) is well placed to address many of the needs of the most affected populations, however it remains at an early and difficult stage of its post-conflict redevelopment. Further improvements in governance, management and service provision will have to be made if the National Society is to have the impact it desires. At the same time, increased accessibility for marginalized populations will need to be a key part of the GRC strategy if it is to comply with its own mission statement "to improve the lives of vulnerable people by mobilizing the power of humanity" (GRC Strategic Plan 2002-2006).

2. National Context

In order to develop capacity and demonstrate impact, the National Society will have to be vigorous in defense of its own Strategic Plan / National Development Plan (NDP) both with external donors and with its own branches.

The statistics given below speak for themselves, there is no debate around whether needs exist in Guatemala, but which needs and which populations the Guatemalan Red Cross should target. Based on available country information, the most valuable contribution the GRC could and should be making would be directed at rural and indigenous populations focusing in particular on women. Programme and beneficiary focus will therefore be the central challenge for the National Society over the coming years.

UNDP - Human Development Indicators 2002

Country Ranking - HDI
(108 in 2001) 120
Total Population (millions)
% of the population living below $1/day
% of the population living below $2/day
GDP per capita (US $)
Infant mortality per 1,000 live births
Under 5 mortality per 1,000 live births
Maternal mortality rate per 100,000 live births
% of births attended by skilled health staff
% of total population undernourished
% of population using improved water sources
% of population using adequate sanitation facilities
% of people living with HIV/AIDS
Annual population growth rate %
% population under 15 yrs of age
% population aged 65 and above
Net primary school enrolment ratio %
Adult illiteracy rate % MALE age 15 yrs +
Adult illiteracy rate % FEMALE age 15 yrs +

From the above table we can see that Guatemala's country ranking has moved from 108 in 2001 to 120 in 2002. Whilst the HDI gives some idea of the situation in country, many of the indicators would be even more worrying if only given for rural and indigenous populations. Wealth and services tend to be concentrated in the metropolitan and non-indigenous areas leading to large disparities between different sectors of the population.

According to the 1998-99 National Survey of Family Income and Expenditures (ENIGFAM)

  • The average illiteracy rate among indigenous women varies between 50% and 90% and only 43% of them are able to finish primary school, 5.8% middle education and 1% higher education.

  • The highest rates of illiteracy are found in the departments with an indigenous majority: for example, Quiche 53.5%, Alta Verapaz 51.3 =B010 (compared with a national average of around 31 %).

  • Over 60% of the population lives in poverty, 80.1% of the population living in poverty are in living in rural areas, 63% of those defined as living in poverty are indigenous.
Other statistics taken from the UN Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) 2001 report
  • The country has approximately one physician and one hospital bed for every thousand inhabitants, but 80% of the physicians and 50% of the nurses serve in the metropolitan area.

  • According to 1999 data of the Ministry of Health, 46% of the population has no access to health services. There are a number of factors which limit access by the majority of indigenous peoples to health services, These include cultural barriers, especially those of language, as well as the dispersion of the population, rurality and the inability to pay for the transport in order to reach a health service.
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