Thursday, November 10, 2005

BBC NEWS | Americas | Guatemala faces hunger 'timebomb'

This is not the first time starvation has loomed over the less fortunate in Guatemala. Guatemala currently has the highest rate of chronic malnutrition in Latin America, affecting 47 percent of children under five.

The current crisis, subject of the BBC story, was precipitated by the recent hurricane. Hunger and malnutrition, though, have been a big problem all along.

I remember being 9 or 10 years old, growing up in Guatemala where, at the time, my Mother worked for the Instituto de Nutrición de Centro América y Panamá, INCAP. (Translation hardly seem necessary, but that's the Nutrition Institute of Central America and Panama.) I learned very early in life what kwashiorkor is and how lucky I was.

The founding director of INCAP was Dr. Nevin Scrimshaw, whom my Mother admired very much. Under Dr. Skrimshaw INCAP developed a low-cost high-protein food called Incaparina, which is sold today in parts of the United States, while variants are used to help the hungry elsewhere. The most striking success of Incaparina-type weaning food is in India,
where a formula utilizing the Incaparina principle and named Bal-Ahar (literally "nutritious child food") has played an important role in Government nutrition programmes. It is produced today in plants in several different parts of India. It is noteworthy that Bal-Ahar is provided by the Government of India without cost to the consumer, whereas Incaparina in Guatemala has received no Government subsidy and only sporadic Government purchases. Bal-Amul, a pre-cooked version at a higher price, has been commercially successful and largely displaced imported weaning foods sold by foreign companies.
My recollections are from more than 40 years ago. It seems little has changed, except that the population of Guatemala has increased from about four million souls to today's level, which approaches 15 million.

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