How Covid-19 Has Exacerbated Poverty In Guatemala

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Over the last few months, quite a lot has changed in the world, and Guatemala is no different. Covid-19 entered Guatemala on March 13th and the Guatemalan president immediately took action:

  • Closing schools
  • Prohibiting gatherings of over 100 people
  • Eliminating public transportation
  • Canceling all religious events for Holy Week
  • Work from home for all employees of non-essential services

A week later, on March 21st, Guatemala officially closed its borders. Since then, there have been no incoming flights other than a few repatriation flights for Guatemalan nationals. Other restrictions have included a nightly curfew, weekend lockdowns, and increased police presence.

Recently, in mid-August, the president decided to lower safety precautions and implement a traffic light system where according to the level of cases, cities can slowly open again. Since then, we have seen restaurants, hotels, shopping malls, and even public transportation open. This seems to be a drastic change, but can be explained by the financial crisis caused by Covid-19 in Guatemala and pressure to reopen the country’s economy.

The First Months of The Covid-19 Crisis In Guatemala

Guatemalan president, Alejandro Giammettei, started his 4-year term in January and at the start of Covid-19, received international praise for his handling of the crisis.

Guatemala closed its borders to foreigners, implemented a work from home policy for most companies, and canceled big events, both public and private. The president seemed genuinely worried about Guatemalan citizens, especially about the consequences the virus could have on Guatemala.

Before the crisis began, over 59.3% of Guatemalans were living in poverty.

Image Source: Source: Erick Avila, Prensa Libre

The Guatemalan Government’s Response

The president soon realized that the impact of Covid-19 would go far beyond health – it would have a major impact on the country’s economy as well. In a country that relies heavily on tourism, many Guatemalans quickly lost their jobs. In response to the economic crisis, the government began handing out 200.000 food baskets they called “Kits Saldremos Adelante.” However, it’s been unclear who is entitled to this food basket and who has actually received them. The Pionero Philanthropy team has spoken to our member nonprofit organizations, who have indicated that their beneficiaries never received these baskets. 

Unequal Access to Financial Aid

The government also created a plan to offer families a financial bonus of 1,000 GTQ (equals 130 USD) for 3 months in a row. These bonuses are being handed out to Guatemalans who have a monthly electricity bill under 1,000 GTQ. However, many Guatemalans who live in extreme poverty don’t have electricity and cannot access this bonus. Therefore, the people who need this support the most, cannot count on help from the government.

In addition to food baskets and bonuses, the Guatemalan government has focused on the creation of new hospitals. Guatemala has limited healthcare infrastructure and the president saw the need for new hospitals to help control the number of Covid-19 cases. Routinely in his weekly press conferences, Giammettei proudly tells viewers about the new hospitals that, according to him, have all the needed equipment available. Millions of dollars have been spent on these hospitals, medicines, and breathing equipment. 

When the rainy season began in May, the first flaws became visible: one of the hospitals flooded. As Covid-19 cases spread, the newly built hospitals could no longer handle the patient loads and new cases were sent to the public Hospital Roosevelt, the biggest public hospital in Central-America. Patients were attended to in the hallway and outside on the patio. Doctors and nurses reported insufficient equipment available, no protection for hospital personnel, and that for months they had not been paid their salaries. Many doctors passed away due to the flaws in the healthcare system.

Poverty in Guatemala and the Covid-19 Crisis

73.5% of Guatemalans work in the informal sector and many in jobs related to tourism.

This economic group was hit the hardest when normally daily life and activities ceased as a result of the virus. Guatemala’s existing poverty problem was quickly worsened by Covid-19. A few days after the virus entered the country, a new phenomenon emerged: the white flag. Those who are struggling financially carry a white flag or one outside their door in hopes of receiving help. This characterizes the current reality in Guatemala, one that can be found on almost every street.

Image Source: Source: Erick Avila, Prensa Libre

A country like Guatemala cannot afford to lose control of this pandemic. Decision makers are faced with an impossible situation – choosing between deaths from the virus or deaths from hunger. 

Little government support has reached those who need it most. Thankfully, many of Pionero Philanthropy’s partner nonprofit organizations are providing this much-needed support to families by supplying food, masks, and hygiene products. 

Nonprofit ODIM with food supplies for their community during the Pandemic

Guatemalan Nonprofits Work during the Covid-19 Crisis

Many of our partner nonprofits rely on donations, volunteer groups, and tourism. With the closing of Guatemala’s borders, many of them have lost a significant part of their income streams. Tourism isn’t expected to return until 2021, or even later. 

One of the most concerning matters is that schools have been closed since March with classes suspended until 2021. Many children are now working to help support their parents. We’re concerned about the number of children that will not continue studying as a result of the Covid-19 crisis and school closures. 

We contacted our member organizations and they are all worried about how the crisis will affect Guatemala’s underprivileged population. Particular concern relates to malnutrition and unemployment rates. Before Covid-19, Guatemala’s unemployment rate was already extremely high and the restrictions put in place because of the virus have left even more people without jobs, income, and the ability to meet their basic needs. 

If and when things return to normal, more Guatemalans than ever before will be in need of help. Our partner organizations, and nonprofits throughout Guatemala, don’t have the capacity to address this need. All are in need of more funding and fast. 

How You Can Help Guatemalan Nonprofits Combat Covid-19

At the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis, Guatemala’s government attempted to support its people. However, it is difficult to see how the loans for millions of dollars were spent and who benefited from them.

So what can be done? Well, we believe that through supporting verified nonprofit organizations, that donors can be sure that their support is being properly distributed to those that need it most.

Pionero Philanthropy works with a select group of partner nonprofits that have all undergone extensive evaluation on Sustainability, Transparency, Impact, Relevance, and Efficiency including a site visit. Due to the economic recession brought on by Covid-19, our partner nonprofits don’t have access to the funds they need to support the vulnerable populations they work with. Today, more than ever, they need your support to continue providing much-needed help.

Interested in supporting our nonprofit members? Please contact us!