Hungry and desperate: Climate change fuels a migration crisis in GuatemalaStarving and in debt, farmers whose land has been destroyed by climate-related weather events are becoming migrants.LA VEGA, Guatemala — Darwin Mendez has tried and failed to reach the United States three times. Twenty-three years old and $30,000 in debt, he said leaving Guatemala is his only option. Years of punishing drought scorched the field he farms with his father, mother, uncle and siblings, shrinking the maize and drying out what precious few kernels grow on the tiny cobs.Then came the rains.Unpredictable storms and back-to-back hurricanes last year brought heavy downpours to the hills of western Guatemala, triggering mudslides that buried Mendez’s crops and left pests and disease in their wake. When the land dried out, it stayed dry, and the region is once again gripped by prolonged heat waves and persistent drought.For Mendez, it means another year of poor harvest.“We don’t have much land — no one does around here — so when we lose crops, we lose everything,” he said.As Guatemala lurches between intense droughts and devastating floods — two extremes made worse by climate change — some farmers like Mendez are being forced to take drastic action, selling whatever they can or borrowing huge sums of money and leaving home. Most will move within the country, to cities in search of work, while others will join the tens of thousands of Guatemalans who each year attempt a much more treacherous journey north.More than one-fifth of the population of Guatemala faces what one United Nations agency considers dangerously high levels of food insecurity. Nearly half of all children in the country under the age of 5 suffer from chronic malnutrition, and in some of the most vulnerable rural communities, that number is significantly higher, according to the U.N. World Food Programme.
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