LN – Hunger and isolation: what the overwhelming reality of the Wichis peoples of northern Salta is like

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Elsa with her daughter Liliana, in the hospital of Santa Victoria Este, where the girl is hospitalized. They belong to the Wichi community of Las Vertientes. Credit: Santiago Filipuzzi

Benedicta Gómez is one year old and weighs seven kilos and 400 grams. He lives in the community of La Puntana, in the
Salta border with Bolivia. Gael Sambo, one year and two months, weighs six kilos and 800 grams. He has no ID, does not receive the benefit of the AUH and lives in La Nueva Esperanza. Rebeca Castellano, from El Buen Destino, is three years old and weighs according to her age, but when she was born she didn't reach the kilo.

They are just some of the boys and girls of
wichis communities surrounding the periphery of
Santa Victoria East, one of the most delayed regions of northern Salta, and that are or were
malnourished to a greater or lesser degree. Their faces and stories remain hidden behind the numbers. Since the beginning of the year, there are eight children from Salta who died of malnutrition,
dehydration and other causes associated with the extreme vulnerability in which they live, as well as the inability to access health services on time.

THE NATION toured Santa Victoria, municipality where two thirds of the population belongs to
original towns, and visited six communities
wichis, to talk with local referents, social organizations and professionals working in the territory. The balance is that the situation could not be more critical and urgent. “We feel forgotten. A lot, too much,” summed up Víctor García, chief of El Cruce. Among the Wichi communities in Argentina – about 50,000 people distributed in Salta, Formosa and Chaco – there is not one that has not had children with malnutrition.


Rebecca with her grandfather German Juárez, and her cousin Mariano, who has a disability. They live in the Buen Destino community, in the town of Santa Victoria Este.
Rebecca with her grandfather German Juárez, and her cousin Mariano, who has a disability. They live in the Buen Destino community, in the town of Santa Victoria Este. Credit: Santiago Filipuzzi

Arriving is not easy. To access, you have to travel more than seven hours per route from the capital of the province to Santa Victoria, where the dirt roads that lead to the places open, while the cell phone signal is being lost. When it rains, as happened last Monday, they become almost impassable neighborhoods even in 4×4, which increases the
isolation. And once there, between the ranches, which at best are made of adobe and with an improvised sheet roof, hunger is seen everywhere.

The boys cry for food, many adults have Chagas and others
diseases associated with the
poverty, families live overcrowded – up to 12 or more people in the same room – and there are no
access to drinking water neither to
basic health services.

Just one example: in the only health center in the La Puntana area – some 2000 inhabitants distributed in different communities – three months ago they have no water. Nor doctor. They are only visited by nurses and the attention of organizations such as Pata Pila, an NGO that has been working since 2015 to prevent child malnutrition and has treated more than 800 cases. In no way they supply.

The same Monday that
THE NATION arrived at the place, the
Salta government announced the launch of an operation that will run through communities of the three departments in which the
socio-health emergency. Among them is Rivadavia, where Santa Victoria Este is located, which since last December has the first wichi mayor of its history. The objective is to begin to distribute 40,000 food modules that will be delivered for four months in those places where there is no connectivity to implement the Food Card, for which there are funds for 320,000,000 pesos sent by the national government.


Mission La Paz community health center, on the border with Paraguay, where community health workers and the Pata Pila team carry out weight and height controls.
Mission La Paz community health center, on the border with Paraguay, where community health workers and the Pata Pila team carry out weight and height controls. Credit: Santiago Filipuzzi

From the provincial administration, they reported that the operation is a reinforcement of the
Focused program, from the Salta Secretariat of
Social politics, “that it was not interrupted since the beginning of the new management since it already periodically provided food and social assistance modules to vulnerable families in aboriginal communities.” The local authorities assured that the program will be expanded both in the number of vehicles that travel through the communities and in the professionals affected, to which nurses specialists in neonatology, pediatrics and primary health care will be added. On the other hand, technicians from the Ministry of Social Development of the Nation, including social workers and nurses, accompany these operations.

According to a recent study by professionals from the University of Salta, the mortality rates in children under 5 years of age in the area of ​​Santa Victoria Este (31.94 per 1000 live births) double those in the province and triple the national average. Between March 12, 2018 and March 12, 2019, 13 boys and girls under the age of 5 died, all belonging to native communities.


Mothers with their children in La Puntana.
Mothers with their children in La Puntana. Credit: Santiago Filipuzzi

Beyond the
emergency care, the organizations that work in the territory and the referents of the native peoples demand structural solutions and a work that includes the communities in the decision making. They believe that only in this way can they respond to a problem as acute as chronic. They also emphasize that the situation worsened in a context of extension of the agricultural frontier and the extractive industries, with the consequent loss of the mountain, the natural habitat of these communities.

FURTHER

(tagsToTranslate) Hunger and isolation: how is the overwhelming reality of the Wichis peoples of northern Salta – LA NACION


Publicado en el diario La Nación