BBC NEWS Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific Spanish Portuguese Caribbean
BBCi NEWS   SPORT   WEATHER   WORLD SERVICE   A-Z INDEX     

BBC News World Edition
 You are in: Americas  
News Front Page
Africa
Americas
Asia-Pacific
Europe
Middle East
South Asia
UK
Business
Entertainment
Science/Nature
Technology
Health
-------------
Talking Point
-------------
Country Profiles
In Depth
-------------
Programmes
-------------
BBC Sport
BBC Weather
SERVICES
-------------
LANGUAGES
EDITIONS
Monday, 24 June, 2002, 14:15 GMT 15:15 UK
Handouts for starving Argentines
bank queue
Bank queues are turning into food queues

Feeding centres have been springing up in Argentina as the economic crisis pushes people towards starvation.

Millions were plunged into poverty after the government posted the biggest sovereign debt default in history, devalued the peso by over two thirds and froze millions of bank accounts last year.

beggars
Even beggars are struggling
And now there are numerous reports across the country of people suffering severe malnutrition.

In the Pilar district of the capital, Buenos Aires, a group of volunteer women run a feeding centre for the children who would otherwise starve.

The meal of pasta and tinned peaches has to stretch to some 70 children.

One of the volunteers, Rosa Mina, said: "The parents don't have work, they don't have food, so for many of the children, the only opportunity they have to eat is what we provide here in the kitchen.

"And apart from that the families are very large - seven or 10 children - so its very difficult for them to have food every day."

Medical problems

Like 80% of people in the district, she and her husband are unemployed. But they work with the volunteers to run the feeding centre for the children who would otherwise starve.

buenos aires
Looted food is distributed in Buenos Aires last year
By late morning, the first of the youngsters are seated at a long bench as they tuck into the steaming plates, some show signs of serious medical problems.

Nearly all are desperately hungry - some to the point of malnutrition.

"Ultimately we get lots of infections in the kids," said Rosa.

"Rashes on the face, scabs, lots of points of infection, particularly because this area is very low and it floods a lot.

"The mud, the dust, the water I think are all the cause of the problems."

Argentina's Health Minister Ginez Gonzalez Garcia acknowledges the paradox of children living in a country that was once the breadbasket of South America, relying on food handouts.


The family ask for bread all the time, but we have nothing. It makes me crazy to see them this way

Adolfo Alarcone

But the crisis that exploded last December has hit so fast that he does not even have any figures on the size of the problem.

He said: "The state of the population's health hasn't been impacted so far.

"But I'm very afraid that we'll experience something similar to Russia when they lost seven years off the average life expectancy in their last macro-economic crisis.

In places like Pilar, all the signs are there. Adolfo Alarcone and his wife, six children and his mother live in a dirt-floor two-roomed shack hammered out of salvaged timber and tin.

He spends his days chopping wood for the back-yard fire that they used to cook on, when they had food.

Mr Alarcone said: "Of course the family's hungry. They ask for bread all the time, but we have nothing.

"It makes me crazy to see them this way, but what can I do?

"Sometimes I think I should go and steal, but I haven't got the guts for that. But maybe robbing is the only alternative."

Food scavengers

With no prospects for work locally, he sees no way out.

"No, there's no solution. The only thing a lot of people do is go to the city to look for food, or newspapers and bottles to sell, you've got to go through the rubbish to survive."

Donate food button from porloschicos website
Argentinian web site porloschicos.com donates food for every hit it gets
Plenty of people do. While buskers try to earn a few pesos from the Buenos Aires shoppers, thousands more rummage through the bags of rubbish that line the streets in the commercial district.

Some are old hands, but many more are not. Joaquin has come up from the south of the country, with his family of six.

"We look for anything we can use - paper, cans, cartons, food, bread, clothes. It all has value for us. And if it's no good for us, there's somebody else who can use it."

But in Buenos Aires now, there are fewer and fewer shoppers to throw their coins at the guitarists, and more and more people searching through the garbage.

The thing nobody knows is if or when the rubbish people are throwing out is no longer enough to sustain those who depend on it to survive.

BBC News Online explains how Argentina suffered the near-collapse of its economy

Analysis

People's stories

Neighbours' fears

Background

BBC WORLD SERVICE

TALKING POINT
See also:

07 Jun 02 | Business
24 Apr 02 | Americas
09 May 02 | Business
06 Feb 02 | Business
Internet links:


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Americas stories are at the foot of the page.


E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Americas stories

© BBC ^^ Back to top

News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East |
South Asia | UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature |
Technology | Health | Talking Point | Country Profiles | In Depth |
Programmes