Salta Province Governor Gustavo Sáenz has commented on reports about malnutrition in Wichí communities in the region, after a string of deaths pushed the topic onto the nation's news agenda.
“The sad and painful reality is that it shows what our dear indigenous brothers have been suffering for many years,” said the Peronist leader.
At least eight Wichí children have died in the province since the turn of the year, while about 30 more remain hospitalised.
The Wichí, an indigenous people local to Bolivia and Argentina found in their largest numbers near Salta and Jujuy, are estimated to have a total population of 40,000 to 50,000. The INDEC national statistics bureau estimates there are 36,135 currently living in Argentina.
The head of the National Institute of Indigenous Affairs (INAI), Magdalena Odarda, recently visited Wichí communities in Salta. She noted that "there are children [living] in very vulnerable situations."
"The absence of the State has been very large for a long time, people suffer and have suffered for many years," lamented Sáenz, who too office on December 10, at a press conference.
"It makes me very angry when they say it is a cultural issue, because nobody dies of hunger or dehydration due to lack of culture, but because of the shortcomings of a State that does not give you the guarantees of having the basics, such as water," he added.
"I can't sleep, thinking all the time how we can accompany and help restore dignity," said Saenz, in comments to the Todo Noticias news channel, adding: "I am ashamed to have to say that we cannot solve an issue as simple as water."
He promised that “substantive measures” were being taken to solve the problem.
Social Development Minister Daniel Arroyo, on the other hand, described the lack of water and malnutrition in Wichí communities in Salta as "very critical."
"It is extremely serious. Water, lack of food, and malnutrition is what has marked this difficulty," said Arroyo.
The minister said that it is a structural issue that has been coming for a long time "but that must be resolved immediately."
"The situation is very critical with many kids under hospital observation" he added.
He also explained that the children have been drinking water that causes diarrhoea, dehydration and malnutrition, a situation that is aggravated by living in communities that are very far from the nearest hospital.
The UN, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) expressed on January 30 their concern "about the nutritional and health status experienced by other children in the province of Salta."
The president of the Consultative and Participative Council of Indigenous Peoples of Argentina, through its president Felix Diaz, urged the Government on Saturday to "comply with the law" so that the native communities "do not continue to die" and warned that the lack of access to drinking water and malnutrition problems are "an issue that goes beyond the Wichí people."