Guatemala City, Guatemala

by Carlos Enrique Valladares Cerezo


The Republic of Guatemala has an area of 108,889 km2. It borders with Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize, as well as with the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean. Guatemala is a country with a great bio-diversity in a small territory, with geo-morphological and climatic areas which vary markedly, with regions of considerable agro-ecological richness. Two thirds of the country is mountainous, and 34 per cent is covered by woodland. The average temperature is between 18 and 22º C.

Guatemala is located in the Central-American Isthmus, a region with a high level of risk from natural phenomena, as well as which it is extremely vulnerable due to the poverty of the majority of the population.

Guatemala is divided into 8 Regions, 22 Departments and 331 Municipalities. Guatemala City is located in Metropolitan Region.

The country has a population of 11.3 million. There are 2.5 million inhabitants in the Metropolitan Region – 20 per cent of the total. National population density is
104 inhabitants/km2, climbing to 1,213 inhabitants/km2 in the Metropolitan Region. In the second half of the 1990s, the population grew at a rate of 2.7 per cent, much higher than the average for Latin America and the Caribbean (1.3 per cent per year).

Urban growth is very rapid, given that in the 1990s the urban population grew at an annual rate of 3.8 per cent, as a result of which the urban population is expected todouble in less than 20 years. The average urban growth rate in Latin America and the Caribbean is 2.2 per cent annually.

These levels of population growth have been maintained in Guatemala because the global fertility level of from 5 to 6 children per woman is the highest in Latin America. There is a clear difference between the fertility rate of the rural population (6 children), and the urban population (4 children), as well as between social strata.

With regard to ethnicity and culture, Guatemala has a population which is approximately 55 per cent indigenous, and 45 per cent ladina (Spanish-speaking). Twenty languages are spoken, although the dominant language is Spanish. The main ethnic groups are the Maya, the Garifuna, the Xinca and the Ladina. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-cultural country.

In conformity with the characteristics of underdeveloped countries, the population is young - 58 per cent of the population is under 19. In 1990 52 per cent of the labour force still worked in agriculture, 28 per cent in services and 20 per cent in industry, while the average participation of the economically active population in agriculture in Latin America and the Caribbean is 25 per cent.

According to the UNDP human development index, Guatemala ranked 117 out of a total of 174 countries in 1999. In 1997 the GDP per capita was US$1,690, in comparison with an average of US$4,127 for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The average monthly income per family in the whole country was US$227 in 1999. In the urban areas the figure was US$423. Almost 70 per cent of the population lives on less than US$2 per day, and of these, almost 30 per cent of the population of the country, and 8 per cent of the urban population live on less than US$1 per day.

Income distribution is extremely uneven, the difference in income of the richest and poorest 20 per cent of the population differing by a factor of 30, in contrast to 12.7 in Costa Rica and 15.1 in Honduras.

There is a correlation between the high population growth rates in regions and departments with higher indices of rural and indigenous populations with higher indices of poverty. Such is the case of Regions 6, 7 and 2. The marginalisation of the indigenous cultures has been inherited from the Spanish colonial period.

This summary has been extracted from:

UN-Habitat (2003) Global Report on Human Settlements 2003, The Challenge of Slums, Earthscan, London; Part IV: 'Summary of City Case Studies', pp195-228.
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2003 Development Planning Unit | Anna Soave | Khanh Tran-Thanh