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Hunger, thirst inhibits indigenous children in the Colombian desert

URIBIA (COLOMBIA) – After a grueling nearly 24-hour jeep ride on mostly deserted roads, two-year-old Rosalinda arrived at the clinic in Uribia, northern Colombia, just in time.

Emaciated from the malnutrition that kills dozens of children each year in the country’s northern La Guajira department, Rosalinda received emergency treatment that saved her life.

“It was like wearing a rag,” said the girl’s mother, Magalis Iguaran, 32, who took Rosalinda to Uribia, a town about 180 kilometers from her rural home in Puerto Estrella on the Guajira Peninsula.

“She was very ill.”

Iguaran somehow managed to collect the equivalent of nearly $70 from relatives for the Jeep cab ride that brought Rosalinda to the clinic — a fortune in a region where two-thirds of the people live in poverty.

The toddler arrived acutely underweight and dehydrated, said pediatrician Karen Toncel. Their growth is inhibited by lack of food.

Five days after her admission, Rosalinda was sitting up in bed “asking for food,” her mother said, her own thin frame wrapped in a loose yellow bathrobe.

“When she arrived she didn’t even want water… They saved her,” said Iguaran, whose only income comes from occasional remittances from her ex-partner, who drives pedicabs.

Iguaran has three other children waiting at home, where she says her family eats no more than twice a day: “An arepa (a small corn cake) with cheese for breakfast and sometimes a lunch of rice and beef scraps.

“Food for five people is expensive.”

– ‘Fail’ –

In 2021, La Guajira, a largely desert district home to the indigenous Wayuu people, had an under-five mortality rate of 21 per 1,000 births, according to official figures.

According to UNICEF, there were 22 in war-torn Syria.

The department also has an acute shortage of safe drinking water.

At least once a week, said pediatrician Toncel, a child in a critical case of malnutrition needs to be transferred to another hospital’s intensive care unit.

The Unidad Materno Infantil Talapuin clinic where Toncel works does not have such facilities.

As for deaths, “there’s one or two patients every month,” the pediatrician said — double the national rate.

Almost all malnutrition patients are members of the Wayuu community.

Across La Guajira, 20 children died of starvation in the first four months of leftist President Gustavo Petro’s new government — a “failure” he acknowledged.

Nationwide, 308 children died of hunger last year, 85 of them in La Guajira, according to the ombudsman.

That was 111 more than in 2021.

– Rice and beans –

Elsewhere in the department, in the Malirachon settlement, indigenous children seek refuge from the sun under a canopy of dried cactus.

A visiting dietitian measures her arms with a device that can detect possible malnutrition.

Of the 22 children gathered there, two are classified as vulnerable.

“I feel sorry for the child, he is ill,” said 22-year-old Sandra Epieyu of her one-year-old son Jose Fernando.

He and his four-year-old brother are both shockingly thin.

Four months pregnant, Epieyu lights a log fire in her log cabin to cook chicha, a corn-based drink that makes up much of her diet.

“In many communities, this (chicha) is the only thing you can find for sustenance,” said social worker Sandra Guillot.

“A day could go by and that would be all they eat.”

Epieyu makes about $8 to $10 a week selling items that she weaves by hand.

“Sometimes there’s nothing to eat … sometimes we just eat once a day,” she told AFP.

Like many other countries, Colombia is struggling with an increasing inflationwhich has reached a record 13.2 percent in the 21st century.

Like Epieyu, most in Malirachon have to fetch drinking water from a well.

She can’t carry water because of her pregnancy and said that she and her children sometimes use water they collect from rainwater puddles that they share with animals.

Children over five are supposed to be given food at school in Colombia, but a teacher, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of losing her job, said the rations were insufficient.

A former governor of the region is on trial for allegedly embezzling funds from the school lunch program.

Even if children over the age of five are not included in the official statistics, this does not mean that they are not affected by the food shortage.

In a small community near the town of Manaure in La Guajira, Wilmer Epieyu – a common surname in the community – is measured.

He is 75 centimeters tall and weighs eight kilograms – as much as a one-year-old toddler.

he is seven

“This is a very shocking case,” said nutritionist Nielcen Benitez of a local NGO.

Epieyu, she said, “will not be able to fully develop”.

Wilmer is one of eight children, five of whom have been treated for malnutrition.

Last year, Colombia took offense at being included in a report by UN agencies on 20 “hunger hotspots”.

Source: Crypto News Deutsch

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