Food availability in Guatemala is poor mainly due to vulnerability to environmental factors like droughts and floods, deforestation and soil erosion and to inadequate agricultural and economic policies. These limitations in the productive sector explain the erratic trend of Dietary Energy Supplies (DES) in the last years that follow closely the energy needs, which represent an insufficiency risk when the unequal distribution of these provisions in the population is considered. Imports have increased, mainly for cereals, milk and animal fats.
The food groups that sustain the population, in terms of DES, continue to be cereals (mainly maize), sugars and beans. These foods meet nearly 90% of energy requirements and are deficient in total fats, proteins of animal origin and micronutrients, especially in the plateau, north and center regions as well as low-income population groups (Table 3a and Table 3b).
According to the ENSMI survey of 1999, 24% of children less than five years are underweight (Map 3) and 46% of children are stunted (Map 4). The situation of growth retardation becomes worse with increasing age, and affects males and females in the same way. It is most serious among the indigenous, rural populations, those with a low level of education and those living in the North, Southwest and Northwest regions where prevalence rates can be as high as 70% (Table 4a-1 and Table 4a-2). The tendency of these numbers is to diminish, with the lowest prevalence among non-indigenous and the urban population.
The prevalence of anaemia continues to be a problem among women of fertile age, among them pregnant women, as well as children less than five years old (Table 5b). Vitamin A deficiency is moderate and studies shows that the situation has greatly improved from a state of severe deficiency in previous decades. This deficiency is mot prevalent among young girls and children of two years in the Altiplano and Nororiente regions, and the rural population. The prevalence is inversely related to the fortified sugar availability. Levels of iodine excretion in the urine are acceptable, but the values vary from region to region, which indicates that the fortification of the salt is not optimal
The economic access to foods is a problem for the majority of Guatemalans. The relationship between the cost of the Basic Food Basket for a family with per capita average for the total population is approximately 0.50. In cases of official minimum wage the relationship is even more precarious. In 1999, more than one-quarter of the Guatemalan population had an income per capita inferior to US$1 per day. In absolute terms this means that approximately 2.8 million people are extremely poor. Also, more than half of the population have an income inferior to US$2 per day, totalling approximately six million poor inhabitants (Map 2). Access to potable water constitutes one of more important basic necessities. Only 67% of the homes at national level have water available by pipes. The prevalence of infectious diseases continues to be very high, mainly among the most vulnerable populations.
The improvement reported in the number of malnourished can be attributed to the following factors: subscription of the 1996 Peace accords; stimulus to the municipalities and towards decentralization; extended education and health coverage with an increase in public spending for these sectors; and growth of the social participation of non-governmental organizations and of the civil society, thanks to the climate of conciliation and democratization.