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Guatemala launches Hunger Zero program to combat chronic malnutrition in over one million children in the country

By Anna-Claire Bevan

Guatemala — This week sees the launch of President Otto Pérez Molina’s Hambre Cero (Zero Hunger) program, which aims to reduce chronic malnutrition throughout Guatemala.

Alex Diego was one of hundreds of malnourished Guatemalan children serviced by the nonprofit Casa Jackson Home for Malnourished Infants in Guatemala. He weighed 11 lbs. at 5 months.

The program will be officially inaugurated on Thursday, February 16, in the village of San Juan Atitán, in the north-western department of Huehuetenango, which has the highest rate of child malnutrition in the country at 91 percent. Hambre Cero will initially target eight of the Central American nation’s poorest municipalities before later spreading nationwide to 166.

With approximately 1,014,000 children living with chronic malnutrition and 12,000 with acute malnutrition, some parts of Guatemala have higher rates of the dietary condition than Africa. Through this program the government aims to dramatically reduce the number of children suffering from nutritional deficiency, as well as create new jobs and develop private investment in the poorest districts.

Hambre Cero will consist of 13 elements, one of which is called “The 1,000 Days Window of Opportunity” and will support mothers from pregnancy up until their child is 2-years-old – ensuring that they both have access to a healthy diet. Other projects include mobile canteens and the implementation of nutritional education programs in public schools.

The campaign, which will be monitored by several government departments and headed up by Vice President Roxana Baldetti, is estimated to cost around $250 million.

Tackling extreme hunger was one of President Otto Pérez Molina’s original campaign promises, alongside increasing security and financial reform and the retired general addressed each of these issues in his inauguration speech last month.

Talking to Guatemalan newspaper, Prensa Libre, Otto Pérez Molina said: “The past government allowed children to die of hunger; we won’t allow this to happen.”

Malnutrition currently affects one in every two children in Guatemala, manifesting itself in stunted growth, lowered IQ scores and death.

Anna-Claire Bevan is a Guatemala-based freelance correspondent for Latina Lista.

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