CONTINUING DROUGHT, COFFEE CRISIS LEAVE MANY IN CENTRAL AMERICA VULNERABLE TO MALNUTRITION

Baltimore, November 6, 2002 -Two years of drought have left a corridor of Central America in urgent need of food assistance, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) reported today. Below average rains and crop losses have left many in the region, particularly children, vulnerable to disease and malnutrition. The situation has been compounded by the near total collapse of the coffee export markets for El Salvador and Nicaragua.

“Not like an earthquake or a hurricane. Drought damage is slower to show up” said Jed Hoffman, CRS‚” Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. ‚”What we’re seeing is a slow-motion tragedy that has left hundreds of thousands of families, and especially their young children, hungry and malnourished.”

In parts of eastern Guatemala, farmers have lost between 50 and 90 percent of the corn and bean crops they planted. More than 65,000 people in the departments of Chiquimula and Zacapa are facing food shortages. In the western department of San Marcos, nearly 70 percent of children under age three have been identified as malnourished.

Poor seasonal coffee pickers in El Salvador and Nicaragua are feeling the effects of a failing world coffee market. With prices at an eight-year low, foreign income from El Salvador’s coffee exports has plummeted from US $311 million in 2000 to US $100 million this year. This economic crisis has caused a sharp decrease in coffee production in El Salvador and throughout Central America. Rural wages have also dropped, and jobs have become scarce. Tens of thousands of families from rural areas throughout Central America are migrating to urban slums in search of work. Many — especially the young men and women — are moving north with their sights set on entering into the United States illegally via Mexico, in the hopes of finding work to send money back home to their families.

Catholic Relief Services is the official international humanitarian agency of the U.S. Catholic community. The agency provides assistance to people in more than 87 countries and territories on the basis of need, not race, creed or nationality.

CONTACT:

Brian Shields • 410-951-7455 • bshields@catholicrelief.org

For information about CRS work in Latin America or any of our other programs around the world, please visit our website www.catholicrelief.org.