Pros and Cons: How Guatemala's Land
Just a little bit smaller than the state of Tennessee, Guatemala is affectionately called the "Mystic Country of Eternal Spring" because of its enchanting natural wonders.
Guatemala is located on the fault line that joins the two continental masses of the Americas. This precarious location makes for a country with the highest volcanoes and most devastating earthquakes in all of Central America. Traveling in Guatemala will take you from humid jungle lowlands where the temperature rarely drops much below 100°F to the chilly pine forests of the highlands where there is the greatest diversity of flora and fauna.
Most of the 11 million Guatemalans live in the valleys of the mountainous regions where they enjoy a temperate climate and beautiful lakes but face the challenge of living under the threatening red glow of more than 30 volcanoes! Guatemala's position on the fault line, combined with its incredibly varied climate and topography, creates an environment which boasts a unique and diverse mix of plants and animals. For instance, over 500 species of birds can be found in Guatemala, including its national bird, the brilliant emerald and gold colored quetzal.
Like any country, Guatemala is both supported and challenged by its land. Take a minute to think about the impact of Guatemala's geography and environment on its people and their livelihoods. What are the pros and cons to this unusually diverse land and warm climate?
In some ways, Guatemala is a particularly livable, attractive and self-sustaining country. Within its borders, Guatemala has exuberant vegetation, varied fauna, many ecosystems and a relatively large amount of coastline (about 400 kilometers!). Coastline is important because it provides people with access to water, increasing their ability to fight disease. Also, coastline supports a thriving fishing industry.
The land and climate of Guatemala are ideal for growing many crops, including coffee, sugar, bananas, cocoa, tobacco and, of course, corn which is the staple of a Guatemalan diet. The jungles and lowlands are covered with banana plantations and soils rich in dinosaur bones!
The jungles and rainforests that make up a large portion of the country, but are being rapidly destroyed by human development, continue to provide plant life that is invaluable to the worlds of science and medicine. All of these factors make Guatemala a beautiful and dynamic place to live but there are also many environmental and geographic challenges which threaten people, animals and plants. Some of the most crucial environmental challenges in Guatemala include rapid population growth, deforestation, soil erosion and pollution.
Guatemala's population of approximately 11 million is estimated to double by the year 2020. This dramatic human growth is probably the greatest threat to rainforests and wetlands and also has created disturbing air and water pollution. Deforestation continues to steadily deplete the rainforests in order to create the necessary space for people and their livestock.
The mountains of Guatemala presents a real challenge to their inhabitants. Small communities of people live high in the mountains, in virtual isolation, using their own language and honoring their own customs. Although Spanish is the official language of Guatemala, there are 21 different Mayan languages! This language barrier makes it difficult for different mountain communities to collaborate, communicate and protect themselves from invasion. The other serious danger the geography poses is the extraordinary number of volcanoes that threaten to wreak havoc to nearby inhabited regions.
Guatemala's unique geography and environment can offer tremendous natural resources, impressive landscapes and useful medicines for many more generations but only if people act now to protect this valuable land.