Malnutrition is to blame for the deaths of at least 62 children under the age of 5 so far this year in Guatemala, the government said Wednesday.

Nearly 9,800 youngsters have been diagnosed with chronic malnutrition, the secretary for food security, Luis Monterroso, told reporters.

Half of Guatemalan kids under 5 do not receive adequate nourishment on a regular basis, according to official statistics that also show 52 percent of the country's 15 million people are living in poverty.

A report issued last week by the State of the Region Project and the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies describes Guatemala as the most unequal country in Central America.

The wealthiest 10 percent of Guatemalans control nearly 40 percent of gross domestic product, the study found.

President Otto Perez Molina's administration is implementing anti-poverty programs that will bear fruit in the coming months, Monterroso said.

The flagship program is an initiative to provide adequate nutrition and healthcare for mothers-to-be to reduce the incidence of low birth weight.

"The first two years of the child's life are vital to avoid malnutrition," Monterroso said.

The burdens of poverty and hunger fall most heavily on Guatemala's rural indigenous communities. EFE