A punishing drought has left the Central American state of Guatemala on the brink of famine. Crops have been ruined by months of dry weather, with nearly half a million people needing urgent help.The harvest of staples like maize and beans is down by half. President Alvaro Colom has declared a national calamity, and has appealed for international aid. The worst-affected areas lie in the east, but the recession means Guatemalans working abroad can not afford to send money back home. “On the one hand, the problem has been caused by the drought and climate change, on the other it’s worsened by the global economic crisis,” said Colom. “However, the government’s social programmes have prevented things getting even more serious.” Even in good times, many Guatemalans go hungry. It is estimated that 49 per cent of children under five suffer chronic malnutrition, the worst figures in the region. Last year 70,000 families needed food aid in October. This year the government fears it may need to help six times as many.