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Guatemala’s children bear brunt of prolonged drought and rising heat

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 January 2020 17:14 ..

by Anastasia Moloney | @anastasiabogota | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 21 January 2020 17:14 GMT Image Caption and Rights Information

By Anastasia Moloney

BOGOTA, Jan 21 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Rising numbers of children in Guatemala are going hungry as drought linked to climate change reduces food harvests, fueling child malnutrition rates in the Central American nation, the United Nations and charities said.

Guatemala, which has one of the world’s high rates of child malnutrition, recorded more than 15,300 cases of acute malnutrition in children under 5 last year, up nearly 24% from 2018, according to government figures.

The number of children acutely malnourished was the highest since 2015, when a severe drought hit Central America.

Guatemala’s farmers are reeling from a series of prolonged droughts in recent years and from a lengthy heat wave last year as climate change brings drier conditions and erratic rainfall, U.N. officials said.

Children living in poor highland farming communities and along the “Dry Corridor” – running through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua – are bearing the brunt, they said.

“There is an increase in cases of acute malnutrition that are related to climate change and the long periods of drought from June to October (last year),” said Maria Claudia Santizo, a nutrition specialist at the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF.

Drought is also adding to the area of Guatemala suffering problems, she said.

“With climate change, the dry corridor has expanded,” Santizo told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Poor harvests of staple crops such as beans and maize mean rural families are forced to eat fewer meals a day, and have less food to sell, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).

Families also are unable to store food to see them through the lean period before the next harvest, the U.N. agency said.

“We are seeing a high rate of child malnutrition that’s rising for two reasons – high temperatures which affect the crops and resulting crop losses, and rains that are more erratic and unpredictable,” said Amy English, a technical advisor at international aid agency Mercy Corps, which works in Guatemala.

She said worsening hunger in the region was a contributor to the caravans of migrants moving north toward Mexico and the United States.

To combat crop losses, rural development programs must include efforts to help farmers adapt to climate change, including planting more drought-resistant crops and better conserving water, she said.

Jose Aquino, a rural development manager in Guatemala for Mercy Corps, said more rivers in the region are running dry at least part of the year.

“2019 was one of the driest years in Guatemala. Rivers that didn’t used to dry up are now doing so,” Aquino said.

“All this basically affects the availability of food,” he said.

STRUGGLING TO COPE

Marc-Andre Prost, a WFP regional nutrition advisor, said three in every five people in Guatemala already live in poverty and rural communities are struggling to cope with the additional burden of extreme weather.

According to WFP, about one million people in Guatemala – 15% of the population – “cannot meet their food needs on a daily basis”, and hundreds and thousands rely on food aid.

“Climate change is not responsible for this situation but climate change and what we’ve seen in the last two years, these climate events, are definitely exacerbating a situation where people don’t have the capacity to cope,” Prost said.

Guatemala’s small-scale farmers are heavily dependent on rainfall and most lack alternative sources of water for their crops.

“As soon as there is a problem with the rainfall, we see the immediate consequences on households” as they try to earn an income and feed themselves, Prost said.

Climate change means it is likely extreme weather – from hurricanes to torrential rains and prolonged droughts – will become more frequent in the future, he said.

Like previous leaders, the new president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, has pledged to make combating stubbornly high rates of child malnutrition a national priority.

(Reporting by Anastasia Moloney @anastasiabogota, Editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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IRC warns 650,000 civilians may be forced to flee if escalation in north-west Syria continues

New York, NY, January 16, 2020 — The humanitarian situation in northwest Syria is reaching catastrop..

New York, NY, January 16, 2020 — The humanitarian situation in northwest Syria is reaching catastrophic levels, and with the attacks yesterday on a marketplace and an industrial zone that reportedly killed at least 15 people, and warnings to civilians in central Idlib and Western Aleppo to evacuate the area, 650,000 people could be impacted and at risk of displacement.

International Rescue Committee Middle East Policy Director, Misty Buswell, said, “The situation in northwest Syria was already at breaking point, and the events of the last few days mark a dangerous and deadly turning point in the conflict. An additional 650,000 people, the majority of them women and children, could be forced to flee their homes if the violence continues. This is on top of nearly 350,000 in Idlib who have been displaced since December, bringing the total number who have fled in the last 9 months to nearly three-quarters of a million.

Many of the displaced people are living in tents in the open in freezing winter conditions and urgently need shelter and food, with the ongoing risk of flooding further compounding the misery. Ahmad, a displaced person in Idlib, told the IRC that he lost his home to an airstrike and he and his family have been forced to flee three times in the past six months. The conflict has taken a psychological toll on his children, the youngest of whom was only 4 meters from the house when it was hit. An IRC assessment in Idlib last year found that half of parents reported their children showing signs of severe emotional distress, and the current violence will add to the psychological terror they are experiencing.

Hospitals and health facilities in Idlib were already full, and medical supplies stretched, even before this wave of violence. Doctors have told the IRC that they are seeing a worrying increase in malnutrition cases, particularly among babies, due to displacement, poor food security and increased poverty as a result of the conflict. Increasing insecurity has forced the suspension of three IRC supported health facilities in central Idlib since December, further limiting the lifesaving response, and an IRC partner in Western Aleppo had to stop its protection programs for women and girls yesterday, leaving the most vulnerable without essential protection services. Since the end of April, 1,460 civilians, including 417 children, have been killed as a result of the military escalation, according to the UN.

Yet again, it is innocent women and children who are bearing the brunt of the conflict, and who will suffer the most if this violence escalates further. All parties to the conflict need to abide by their obligations under international humanitarian law and spare civilians from the worst effects of the fighting. It is critical for the ceasefire that was agreed in northwest Syria to be implemented fully and without further delay. And it is time, once and for all, for the parties to the conflict to come back to the negotiating table and find a peaceful resolution. The very lives of 3 million civilians in northwest Syria depend on it.”

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Libya: Tens of thousands of children at risk amidst violence and chaos of unrelenting conflict

NEW YORK, 17 January 2020 – “Children in Libya, including refugee and migrant children, continue to ..

NEW YORK, 17 January 2020 – “Children in Libya, including refugee and migrant children, continue to suffer grievously amidst the violence and chaos unleashed by the countrys longstanding civil war.

“Since April last year when hostilities broke out in Tripoli and western Libya, conditions for thousands of children and the civilians have deteriorated further. Indiscriminate attacks in populated areas have caused hundreds of deaths, and UNICEF has received reports of children being maimed or killed. Children are also being recruited to the fighting. Meanwhile, more than 150,000 people, 90,000 of whom are children, have been forced to flee their homes and are now internally displaced.

“Infrastructure on which children depend for their wellbeing and survival has also come under attack. Nearly 30 health facilities have been damaged in the fighting, forcing 13 to close. Attacks against schools and the threat of violence have led to closures and left almost 200,000 children out of the classroom. Water systems have been attacked and the waste management system has virtually collapsed, greatly increasing the risk of waterborne diseases including cholera.

“The 60,000 refugee and migrant children currently in urban areas are also terribly vulnerable, especially the 15,000 who are unaccompanied and those being held in detention centres. These children already had limited access to protection and essential services, so the intensifying conflict has only amplified the risks that they face.

“UNICEF and our partners are on the ground providing affected children and families with support in accessing healthcare and nutrition, protection, education, water and sanitation. We are also reaching refugee and migrant children with assistance, including those held in detention centres. Sadly, attacks against the civilian population and infrastructure, as well as against humanitarian and healthcare personnel are seeking to undermine humanitarian efforts.

“Today, children in Libya are in a dire and untenable situation that the rest of the world should find unacceptable. We urgently call on all parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them to protect children, end the recruitment and use of children, cease attacks against civilian infrastructure, and allow for safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to children and people in need. We also call on Libyan authorities to end the detention of migrant and refugee children and to actively pursue safe and dignified alternatives to detention.

“Ahead of a planned peace summit in Berlin, Germany this Sunday, we call on parties to the conflict and those who have influence over them to urgently reach a comprehensive and durable peace agreement for the sake of each and every child in Libya.”

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