Despite the pandemic, drinking water reached the wichi community of Salta

Just before the pandemic, Argentina opened its eyes to a great local drama: the death of boys from the wichi community by malnutrition in Salta. A situation that the UN representative in the country compared to the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan and that led multiple international organizations to unite to collaborate.

The Argentine Red Cross He took charge of the execution of a plan to bring water to the populations that inhabit the departments of Rivadavia, San Martín and Oran.

In those areas, the Salta government had declared the social health emergency on January 29, after the death of eight children and the hospitalization of more than 30 with a diagnosis of malnutrition.

Boys are the most affected by malnutrition. (Photo: Argentina Red Cross video capture).

A field study by the organism’s Humanitarian Observatory showed that 90 percent of the people surveyed are in a nutritional situation below normal. 45 percent in a “very low weight” situation.

The main reason that causes the pictures is the lack of access to drinking water that affects about 9600 people. Populations also suffer from a lack of food, health services and livelihoods. Exclusion, discrimination, loss of land and environmental pollution are other structural problems that cross them ..

Representatives of the United Nations (including UNICEF, PAHO / WHO and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights), the European Union in Argentina, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent and the Argentine Red Cross, visited the province in February and laid the foundation for a response that must be urgent and in the long term to address the structural problems faced by wichis, tuffs and chorotes.

But COVID-19 fell with all its weight on Argentina in March. And the situation became even more complex. In itself, access to populations is difficult and was complicated by closed routes and roads, the decrease in traffic and municipal staff began to work in a reduced way to prevent the spread of the virus.

The closure of borders caused delays in the entry of humanitarian aid products from Paris and the suspension of community activities made it difficult to approach the recipients of the plan.

The replacement of Red Cross volunteers, which was usually carried out by plane and buses, had to be redesigned to be done through institutional vehicles, which increased the logistical times of the operation and the increase in resources used.

The initial budget of $ 850,000 did not include the extra expenses due to the pandemic but the action did not stop: between February 29 and March 9, 2020, technical personnel and volunteers set up the first humanitarian camp in the history of the Argentine Red Cross, located in the area of ​​”Misión Grande”, a 15 km from Santa Victoria Este (540 km from the city of Salta), from which responses are provided to more than 38 communities.

The Red Cross held workshops for members of the communities. (Photo: Argentina Red Cross video capture).
The Red Cross held workshops for members of the communities. (Photo: Argentina Red Cross video capture).

The water treatment plant that arrived in Argentina was installed in record time when Social, Preventive and Mandatory Isolation (ASPO) had already been declared, which was a logistical and technical challenge. The plant allows to produce up to more than 60 thousand liters of water per day.

Volunteers delivered family and community filters, jerrycans, both for storing and purifying safe water. In addition, the communities were trained in their use and maintenance, with the aim of leaving the installed capacity for the production of safe water.

A water distribution system was also installed through storage tanks and water deliveries are made in communities where there is no source of water or where the army does not go.

  Prevention talks were held against COVID-19 and other diseases. (Photo: Argentina Red Cross video capture).
Prevention talks were held against COVID-19 and other diseases. (Photo: Argentina Red Cross video capture).

In sum, household water distribution generates a monitoring of the storage elements they have (tanks, drums, etc.). Today we are distributing more than 10,000 liters per day, hoping to double that capacity when a tank trailer arrives “, indicated from the Red Cross.

Lastly, a First Aid post was created that assists 24 hours from which basic care and psychosocial support are provided; 100% of cases include height and weight checks and measurements, as well as basic nutritional controls.

The action was crossed by the measures of caretaker before the COVID-19 for the volunteers – between 15 and 20 who rotate every 14 days – and for the inhabitants of the communities. In addition, prevention talks were held.

The humanitarian agency anticipates that the second stage of the plan will begin in August, with the focus on the distribution and domiciliary treatment of water.

To collaborate: