COVID-19 arrived in Guatemala on March 13th, 2020.
Our Guatemala government has received international praise for its early reaction and for starting taking measures by the beginning of March. The government leadership, aware of our fragile health care system, recognized they needed to anticípate and prevent a potential disaster.
Measures implemented early on by the Government included a public curfew to ensure no large gatherings, and the suspension of school and public transportation.
As of this writing, 3 weeks into our campaign against the coronavirus, Guatemala still has fewer than 100 cases, including 3 deaths and 17 recovered patients.
The real challenge is the economic impact on the population. The vast majority of Guatemalans live to the day, and if they are unable to work, they are unable to eat. While we have seemingly averted a public health disaster, we are sadly heading towards a food security disaster over the next few months.
The government has taken almost exclusive control of all economic assistance, including quantities of food available to the poorest communities. They have done this to prevent hoarding by the general population and with it the potential for a significant shortage of food staples critical to the population.
However, the limited assistance the Government is currently providing to poor families is not enough. It hasn’t reached all of the families in need, and there are large numbers of families so big and so poor that even with help from the government they cannot satisfy their basic needs.
For organizations like ours, with a name that implies that we will help to resolve food scarcity in vulnerable communities, the limits on food purchasing that the Government has implemented as a preventive measure, inhibits our ability to assist the way we would like to.
Fortunately, hard times bring out the best in our people:
In Plan de Avila and Reparadero, at the moment, no family is experiencing dire need, as neighbors are helping one another.
There are enormous networks of volunteers connecting people in need to people who can help nationwide.
HRI is using these networks to coordinate with staff and volunteers to send food to Cuilapa and Guatemala City, within the limits set by the government, as well as promoting positive and inclusive messaging during the quarantine. This includes the COVID 19 education and prevention campaign, a sign language version of COVID 19 prevention videos, we are working to address increases in domestic violence common during crisis, and strategies to encourage and keep teenagers and children safe at home and entertained.
Once the quarantine is over, we will be able to play a more prominent role solving the food security problem in our communities, with the help of our donors.
Even though these are difficult times for humanity, I am glad to witness the amazing things humans can do with so little when they work together, and the lengths they are willing to go in order to help those in need.
Written by Hector Alay
HRI Guatemala Programs Manager