AMERICA/ARGENTINA - Humanitarian emergency in Chaco: 13 indigenous people die of malnutrition and consequently TB and other related diseases

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Buenos Aires (Agenzia Fides) - Indigenous communities in the north eastern Argentinean province of Chaco are being denied access to traditional food and natural medicines and are in danger of becoming extinct.
The bodies of adults weakened by hunger and TB in the town of Villa Río Bermejito are the epilogue of a long history of neglect and unanswered requests from Toba, Wichí and Mocoví peoples in Chaco, 700 km north of Buenos Aires.
A year after a hunger strike to protest against serious irregularity in assignment of land, the Nelson Mandela Centre for Social Studies and Research denounced the death of 13 members of these communities in recent months caused by malnutrition associated with TB and other diseases such as chagas and cancer. The study reported 92 cases of various stages malnutrition this month.
“We will hide nothing about the hunger and poverty suffered by these peoples”, said governor Roy Nikisch. “We are aware that the culture of our indigenous peoples does not allow state interventions or medicine or treatment ”.
Orlando Charole, president of the Institute of the Indigenous Peoples of Chaco (IDACH), put the problem in a historical prospect. “For centuries we indigenous peoples suffered the consequences of hundreds of villages raised to the ground, nevertheless our communities retained their traditions and customs and managed to survive. Today, what is at stake is our land. A people without its land cannot survive”, said Charole, adding “Where would we live and follow our traditions, where would we hunt, fish and collect food, where would we find our medicinal herbs? Charole, a member of the Toba people, was representing more than 60.000 indigenous people in Chaco, almost 6% of the province's population of 980.000 people. According to the National Forest Office, Chaco is the third of Argentina's 23 provinces with regard to the percentage of deforested land in recent years.
The National Institute of Statistics says that in Argentina 600,000 members of indigenous tribes are descendants of about 25 different peoples.
In June 2006, some 3,000 representatives of the indigenous peoples of Chaco staged a 400km protest march from Villa Río Bermejito to the provincial capital Resistencia. When the provincial authorities refused to dialogue they staged a sit-in and about ten started a hunger strike which lasted 32 days with serious consequences for their health.
(AP) (4/9/2007 Agenzia Fides; Righe:37 Parole: 445)