Malnutrition and Hunger in Costa Rica

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SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — Costa Rica is a Central American country bordered by the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans. It is known for its beaches, volcanoes and the vast wildlife that lives in its rainforests. It is a beautiful, tropical vacation city for many. However, for some of its citizens, hunger in Costa Rica is a harsh reality.

Hunger in Costa Rica

Hunger is defined by “a craving or urgent need for food or a specific nutrient.” According to a 2015 report done, 34.3 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean suffer from hunger. At the time of that report, however, Costa Rica had met the United Nations Millennium Development Goals’ (MDG) hunger target after reducing the number of people suffering from hunger to fewer than 5 percent. With the number of people in poverty and suffering from hunger decreasing, it would seem that Costa Rica shouldn’t have a big problem with hunger. Unfortunately, food security is still a problem.

It’s hard to imagine so many Costa Ricans going hungry when they produce so much food on the land. The farms in the country are known for their range of products. After coffee, which is the most important crop grown by farmers, comes bananas, short-cycle crops, oranges, rice, a variety of fruits, vegetables, flowers and oatmeal. Cattle farms are also used to produce beef and dairy. Although Costa Ricans grow this food, many of them cannot afford to buy it.

Food insecurity is defined as “the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.” Unfortunately, food insecurity is on the rise in the country. Between 2016 and 2018, at least 5.2 percent of Costa Ricans were suffering from severe food insecurity. That’s an increase from 2016 when only 5.2 percent of Costa Ricans suffered from food insecurity.

Poverty and Unemployment

One report states the main problem in the country is the people’s ability to afford food. One factor that plays a role in this is the poverty rate. In 2019, the National Statistics and Census Institute (INEC) released a report saying that the poverty rate in Costa Rica is at 21 percent. That means around 336,000 households live below the poverty line.

Unfortunately, the unemployment rate in the country was at 12.4 percent in January 2020, compared to July 2018 when it was at just 8.7 percent. This means that there are 309,000 unemployed people in the country. Women have been most affected by the lack of work. The number of women out of work increased to 21,000 by the end of 2019. With unemployment rates rising in the country and poverty increasing, people can no longer afford food. Statistics show that 25 percent of the population lives on $5 per day. Even worse, “14 percent of the Costa Rican people live on less than $1.25 per day.”

The Good News

While the unemployment rates are skyrocketing and the poverty levels are at a seemingly unchanging rate, the Costa Rican government is aiming to find work for those in need. President Carlos Alvarado is developing a plan to ensure more jobs for the unemployed. The plan institutes a $9.5 billion investment in infrastructure, airports, hospitals, education and more.

Nadie con Hambre (No One Should be Hungry) is one nonprofit group fighting hunger in Costa Rica. It helps lower-income families. Nadie con Hambre collects non-perishable food items and gives them to the families in need. The group has already collected upwards of six tons of rice to give to those in poverty.

Another project fighting poverty in Costa Rica is Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty. It helps families in need with children who can’t receive government assistance to purchase school supplies and school clothes. According to statistics, approximately 0.119 percent of children living in Costa Rica were not enrolled in school in 2018.  In fact, globalgiving.org reported that many non-documented immigrant families didn’t qualify for government assistance. Around 20 percent of them have children between the ages of seven to 10 who are not enrolled in school. The project will provide school supplies plus social work support for 30 families in poverty without government assistance. Its goal is to help children in poverty to escape a life of drugs, gang violence and crime.

Costa Rica’s population is struggling with poverty, but rather than the struggle stemming from the lack of food, which is bountiful in the country, it’s stemming from the people’s ability to afford the food they need to survive. With unemployment and poverty on the rise, it seems that hunger is likely to follow. Thankfully, the government and groups like Nadie con Hambre and Give the Gift of Education to Children in Poverty are helping in the fight against hunger.

Marlee Septak
Photo: Flickr

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