Guatemala suffers from a level of inequality and widespread poverty that is extreme even within Latin America. According to the World Bank’s Guatemala Poverty Assessment, many developing countries are poor, multi-ethnic, and overwhelmingly rural. Yet Guatemala stands out for the magnitude of these characteristics.
More than half of Guatemala’s people live below the national poverty line, 15 percent in extreme poverty, and the country ranks 13th in the world for its level of income inequality, according to the GINI Index. Many families struggle to provide the basic needs for their families and cannot afford the expenses associated with school. Guatemala struggles with high illiteracy rates and low school attendance beyond the 6th grade. Access to quality health care and housing is also scarce. Preventable diseases often result in death, malnutrition is common among children, and infant mortality rates are high. Many homes are made of scavenged materials, with dirt floors, no toilets, and no drinkable water.
In addition to extreme poverty, Guatemala struggles with the after-effects of a 36-year civil war, ended in 1996, as well as persistent political corruption, unemployment, and alcoholism, all of which have had destructive effects on families and communities. Plus, the country’s diverse ethnic heritages—including 23 recognized indigenous languages—make broad-based solutions more difficult, instead requiring localized, culturally-sensitive solutions.