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Hunger, drought affect Mexico's Tarahumara natives
by Staff Writers
Creel, Mexico (AFP) Jan 24, 2012

The indigenous Tarahumara people of northern Mexico, famed for their abilities to run long distances, are struggling to survive chronic hunger resulting from one of the most severe droughts ever to strike their remote homeland.

The Tarahumara, or Raramuris, are no strangers to food shortages. However the drought, combined with freezing temperatures, has forced thousands out of their mountain communities to seek food handouts.

The widespread community hunger, fueled by rumors that people had committed suicide out of hopelessness, resulted in outpouring of aid from religious groups, officials and the public.

"Have you got any food? I'm hungry," Eusevino Pausen, a indigenous man, asked weakly after walking eight hours through the rugged mountains to seek help.

Pausen is among some of the 220,000 Tarahumara Indians crowding at handout centers in the small mountain town of Creel after hiking from far flung villages across the remote region.

"There's a lack of food because there was no snow nor rain," said Octavio Hijar, a director of a Tarahumara group distributing food in Creel.

Desperation was palpable in Creel, one of the largest towns in the area. Many spoke of unemployment and a drop in tourism due to drug violence in the region known for its dramatic canyons.

The Tarahumaras live in the state of Chihuahua, one of the most violent areas of Mexico and home to the country's most violent city, Ciudad Juarez, on the US border.

The Tarahumara Indians settled in the remote mountains following the 16th century Spanish conquest of Mexico to avoid being evangelized or forced to work in area mines.

Many now still use mountain caves for their animals, and grow crops on steep fields that are now yellow and dry.

"We don't have food ... no corn, no beans," said Julia Placido, a young indigenous woman holding a child in her arms as she queued with hundreds for a food handout in the town of Samachique.

Similar queues, of men and women wearing brightly-colored shawls, were seen across the sierra.

Some women rushed to open milk containers to feed their children.

"We've never managed to see this level of attention," said missionary Sandra Luz Cerda, underlining that the problem of deaths from hunger was nothing new.

"The ideal thing would be to help the Raramuris be self-sufficient," she said.

Mexican media have reported that children are dying amid a famine. Some who work with the Tarahumara, however, say they have yet to register a child suffering from severe malnutrition.

Chihuahua state governor Cesar Duarte, who blamed climate change for the problems, said "only 28 people" died of malnutrition in 2011, compared with 47 the previous year.

Both the Tarahumara and those who work to support them must wait to see if the drought will break in this year's rainy season, which starts in June.

They say its clear food handouts are only a short-term solution.

"We're not helping them by giving them food right now that will last a month, a month and a half. What happens after that?" asked Isaac Oxenhaut, a disaster coordinator for the Red Cross in Mexico.

"The drought isn't going to end next month, they're not going to be able to sow food next month."

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Mexico offers $2.6 billion to aid victims of record drought
Mexico City (AFP) Jan 24, 2012 - Mexican President Felipe Calderon on Tuesday announced a 2.6-billion-dollar program to help victims of a record drought, including food and water handouts, as rural victims protested in the capital.

The "unprecedented sum would attend to a catastrophic situation in Mexico," Calderon said during a public act. The aim "is that no family is without water or food due to this drought."

Immediate measures included the delivery of 4,000 water trucks to affected areas, mainly in the north of the country, and the distribution of corn.

The program would receive almost 34 billion pesos (2.6 billion dollars), while a presidential decree would lift bureaucratic obstacles to speed up aid distribution, Calderon said.

Tens of thousands of people have been affected by the drought -- the worst in 70 years in some areas -- particularly in northern Durango state and the mountainous Tarahumara region in the northern border state of Chihuahua.

Hundreds of farmers marched to Mexico City this week to draw attention to the drought that has ravaged their crops.

Officials estimate that almost two million hectares (500,000 acres) have been destroyed and tens of thousands of heads of cattle have died.

The next rainy season usually starts around May.


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Drought worsening in Argentina, Paraguay
Buenos Aires (UPI) Jan 20, 2012
Drought conditions are worsening in Latin America, especially Argentina and Paraguay, and may become a flash point for political and rural unrest, latest data and sector analysis said. In Argentina's politically fraught agriculture sector, anger over what farmers' representatives see as ineffective policies of President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner surfaced again in pronouncements by ... read more

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