Tuesday 5 March 2013

In Mexico, the drug war makes the headlines, but hunger and diabetes kill just as many

Scavenging at a dump (source: Pulitzer.org)
In the past six years 71,400 Mexicans have died from “causes related to malnutrition”, an average of 11,900 a year. That tracks with the dead in the six-year drug war, which is estimated to have killed over 70,000 people since it began in December, 2006. And, strangely enough, it also matches the 70,000 who die every year of diabetes.

The majority of those who die of malnutrition in Mexico are children, particularly those under five years old. This problem is largely invisible to many Mexicans, two thirds of whom struggle with obesity. This is because extreme hunger tends to plague the rural regions in the poorer southern states, such as Oaxaca and Chiapas.

However, in addition to the nearly 12,000 dead every year from malnutrition, about 28 million Mexicans suffer from food poverty, according to Mexico’s federal agency for social and political development, known as Coneval.

And among children, three in ten (11.7 million children and adolescents) also suffer from food poverty, a clear indication that the problem is widespread throughout the country.

But the worst conditions are clearly among Mexico’s indigenous people. Coneval says that 40.5% of the indigenous population in the country has difficulty obtaining enough food.

President Peña Nieto deserves some credit for giving visibility to this problem. During his inaugural address on December 1, 2012, the new president said that "Mexico has made progress in various sectors, but it is outrageous, it is unacceptable that millions of Mexicans still suffer from hunger."

Then on January 21 of this year the federal government started its National Crusade against Hunger (Cruzada Nacional contra el Hambre). It has set as a target to reach 7.4 million Mexicans in 400 municipalities where there are high incidences of food shortages as well as extreme poverty.

However, the problem in remote parts of Mexico isn’t only resources – it is also the difficulty in getting physical access to food. According to Coneval, in 10% of rural Mexico red meat, chicken, and milk products are simply not available.

Stranger still, in more than 20% of rural Mexico there is no way to get fruit – there simply are no places to purchase it. This is a bizarre phenomenon, particularly given the high availability of citrus in others part of Mexico, as well as its low cost and decent shelf-life.

And in Mexico another 70,000 people die of a cause completely unrelated to violence and malnutrition: diabetes. Mexico, land of contrasts that it is, not only has difficulty feeding its people – it is also one of the “fattest” countries in the world.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

For a related story see:

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
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  1. If you know anyone who uses cocaine, remind them that every line they snort buys a few bullets and that they have blood on their hands. If we didn't use cocaine in Canada and the United States, 47,000 Mexicans would be alive now. Getting high has never attracted such bad karma, which always comes back to haunt you.
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  2. Still think drugs are 'cool'? Every time you use them, you own a piece of this.

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