Sunday, 24 April 2011

MALNUTRITION: Argentina’s Battle With Malnutrition

Daniel Macmillen : 23 April 2011
In the early days of February, Argentina was rocked by tragic news from the northern provinces of Chaco and Salta. One of the decade’s heaviest droughts had led to a devastating food crisis, with tens of thousands of people severely affected by the shortages. By the 11th of February, nine people in the province of Salta alone had died from nutritional deficiencies, including seven children. Indigenous communities in northern Chaco, Argentina’s poorest province, abandoned by meagre local government assistance, were forced to turn to eating tree roots. So how can such a shocking humanitarian issue occur in a nation which produces an amount of food ten times higher than that needed by its own population?
There are a variety of causes that have conditioned the nutritional crisis. On a primary level, malnutrition is no new-comer to Argentina and experienced a recent substantial increase after Argentina’s infamous economic crisis of 2001. The disastrous period left millions of Argentines in extreme poverty and hundreds of thousands of children deeply exposed to the danger of undernourishment. Economic issues aside, an underdeveloped rural healthcare system, a lack of educational awareness, widespread poverty and destitution have also contributed to the problem. It is no surprises then that the most heavily affected areas by malnutrition are Argentina’s northern indigenous communities who live profoundly detached from educational and medical centres.
More than a million Argentines suffer from malnutrition, and recurrent high-profile cases such as the recent deaths in Salta have brought attention to the need for drastic political involvement. The national government have undertaken a variety of measures to try and grapple with the problem, including the Universal Child Assignment Plan, which seeks to give a monthly sum of around 220 pesos (US$ 55) per child to working families under the poverty line. However, recent looks at the initiative by a prominent Argentine social think tank have shown that the plan does little to help secluded communities to access food, creating only an increase in family income without correcting the key nutritional deficit or improving access to food supplies. Calls have been made for more focused and specialized political policies, especially by Abel Albino, one of the most well-known and outspoken activists for the food crisis. What is needed however is much more concrete infrastructural action; emergency relief funds must be made more efficient in administering food supplies and education must be recognized as a fundamental tool in raising awareness on the problem to many communities who are deeply under-informed of the fatal dangers of malnutrition.
Raising consciousness on the issue is also essential; the “silent extermination” suffered by many of the indigenous communities is frequently overlooked in the political arena; however, there is hope that the recent tragedies may shed light onto the desperate need of development in the area. The food crisis is by all means not a problem only endemic to northern Argentina. According to recent UN statistics, malnutrition affects approximately 53 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the growing number of environmental disasters and distorted weather patterns leave many rural communities in the region exposed to potential future food crises. A recent medical study observed that only 2% of Latin American medical centres have the appropriate facilities for dealing with patients of malnutrition. Despite all these obstacles, there have been recent improvements. Since Argentina’s economic meltdown in 2001, when more an average of 30 people died of malnutrition every day, the rate has been steadily decreasing to a rate of four deaths a day. But in the country which was once known as the “breadbasket of the world”, the recurrence of hunger and malnutrition is simply inadmissible.

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