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REAP Country Case Study: Guatemala

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Guatemala is the largest economy in Central America with a middle-income status. However, two thirds of the population live on less than US$2 per day. Guatemala has one of the largest indigenous populations in Latin America, comprising 23 groups. Among the indigenous population, poverty averages 79 percent, with 40 percent living in extreme poverty. Stunting in children aged 6-59 months is among the highest in the world and the highest in the region (WFP, 2021).

Guatemala has long been vulnerable to climate and geophysical hazards which includes earthquakes, volcanic activity, floods, hurricanes, storms, and landslides. According to post-disaster needs assessments, between 1975 and 2015, severe events caused damage and losses of US$ 9,148 million, of which 58 percent correspond to hydrometeorological events (World Bank et al, 2017). This high exposure, along with unplanned urban growth and high levels of poverty, placed Guatemala as the ninth most vulnerable country according to the 2016 Global Climate Risk Index, for the last 20 years (World Bank et al. 2017). According to the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, 83.3 percent of the country’s GDP is located within areas of risk (GFDRR, 2009). Guatemala's location between the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean makes it a target for hurricanes on both coasts.

From an administrative perspective, Guatemala has 22 Departments, or provinces, which are further divided into 340 municipalities (municipios). Recently, within a two-week period in early November 2020, Hurricane Eta, an erratic Category 4 hurricane, and Hurricane Iota ravaged 16 of those departments, home to approx. 5 million people. Eta and Iota mainly affected rural areas with high levels of extreme poverty. The most affected department was Alta Verapaz, home to mostly indigenous Maya Q'eqchí communities. The affected populations in the departments of Izabal, Quiché, Huehuetenango, Petén, Zacapa, and Chiquimula share several structural characteristics with those in Alta Verapaz. They areas are primarily rural, mostly self-identify as indigenous peoples, and are poorer than the national average (IFRC, 2021). Over 1.9 million people were affected, including more than 1.2 million in need of humanitarian assistance (IFRC, 2021).

There is overwhelming scientific consensus that climate extremes are having a devastating impact on agriculture in Central America, affecting the livelihoods of millions of farmers and serving as a driver of migration from the region5. The 2015/2016 El Niño phenomenon led to one of the worst droughts in 35 years in Central America. Guatemala’s southeast region (known as the Dry Corridor6, a term penned during the El Niño event in 2009) was especially affected, leading to widespread crop failure and food insecurity (USAID, 2017). Maize and bean harvests were reduced by more than 50 percent in the western highlands and eastern dry corridor affecting one in five households (USAID, 2017). The Government of Guatemala (GoG) declared a State of Emergency in effect for 30 days in 10 departments7. 2019 was the driest year in a decade with only 65 days of rain, according to Guatemala’s National Institute of Seismology, Volcanology, Meteorology and Hydrology (INSIVUMEH).

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs: To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.