Indigenous Tarahumara drove to another community to receive humanitarian aid in the midst of a drought. The drought that a government official called the most severe Mexico had ever faced has left two million people without access to water and, coupled with a cold snap, has devastated cropland in nearly half of the country.  Alejandro Bringas/European Pressphoto Agency

30 January 2012

MEXICO CITY – A drought that a government official called the most severe Mexico had ever faced has left two million people without access to water and, coupled with a cold snap, has devastated cropland in nearly half of the country.

The government in the past week has authorized $2.63 billion in aid, including potable water, food, and temporary jobs for the most affected areas, rural communities in 19 of Mexico’s 31 states. But officials warned that no serious relief was expected for at least another five months, when the rainy season typically begins in earnest.

While the authorities say they expect the situation to worsen, one of the five worst-affected states, Zacatecas, got a reprieve on Sunday. Heriberto Félix Guerra, head of the Ministry of Social Development,  saw the rain, the first in 17 months, as a guardedly reassuring sign.

Among the more seriously affected communities are tribal areas of the Tarahumara indigenous community in the Sierra Madre, in the north. Known for endurance running and self-reliance, the Tarahumara are among Mexico’s poorest citizens. When false reports of a mass suicide brought on by hunger surfaced recently, journalists and aid organizations poured in to shed light on the situation.

“I think it has really become extreme poverty,” says Isaac Oxenhaut, national aid coordinator for the Mexican Red Cross. Mr. Oxenhaut recently visited the Indian communities where, he said, the land was too dry to grow any crops the Tarahumara usually depend on for their livelihood. “They don’t have anywhere to harvest absolutely anything,” he added.

Nearly 7 percent of the country’s agricultural land, mostly in the north and center, has suffered total loss, according to Victor Celaya del Toro, director of development studies at the Agriculture Ministry.

The drought, which has been compounded by freezing temperatures, has already pushed up the cost of some produce, including corn and beans. The governor of the Central Bank, Agustín Carstens, speaking last week at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, cautioned that it might cause inflation to rise later this year.

But government officials have said they do not expect the price of exports to be affected.

Some of the most devastated areas are hard to reach, slowing the flow of aid to a trickle. The Red Cross is sending 70-pound sacks of rice, beans and sugar, as well as winter clothing.

“A cargo bus will not fit,” Mr. Oxenhaut said. “You have to do it with four-wheel drives or donkeys, or the people who take it on their backs.”

Even illicit crops have suffered in the drought. Pedro Gurrola, army commander in the state of Sinaloa, told reporters on Monday that many marijuana crops had dried up but that the harvest of what remains has continued.

Food Crisis as Drought and Cold Hit Mexico

Creel, Mexico, 24 January 2012 (AFP) – 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. […]

"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. […]

"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."

Hunger, drought affect Mexico's Tarahumara natives



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