Argentina: Drought (MDRAR017) Final Report


Description of the disaster

A combination of the Social and Health Emergency declared on 20 January 2020 by the Salta provincial government and the COVID-19 emergency in Argentina, has increased the vulnerability and needs of the Wichis indigenous communities. The Salta provincial government's declaration of the Social and Health Emergency in its north-eastern regions responded to the death of 13 children and the hospitalization of 30 others due to malnutrition, including at the start of this operation figures of 855 registered cases and more than 10,000 at-risk cases especially in indigenous communities in the departments of Rivadavia,

San Martín, and Orán. Dozens of other children were hospitalized due to gastrointestinal and respiratory illnesses aggravated by their acute state of malnutrition and dehydration. One of the origins of this situation is the seasonal drought that began in the last quarter of 2019 and intensified in February, which directly affected people's quality of life due to low food production, impact on livestock, and, consequently, a significant decrease in people's daily food consumption.

With COVID-19 containment measures, the movement was restricted across the country, which had an impact on access to food and to resources in general. This situation has increased the vulnerability of these drought-affected communities and their ability to reach nearby urban areas to purchase food. Before the pandemic-related travel restrictions, these communities used public transportation to reach other cities for food. It took a three-hour journey to Tartagal, which is no longer possible.

At the start of the operation, the Argentine Red Cross (ARC) Humanitarian Observatory conducted a field assessment and identified that 90 per cent of 325 children had a below-normal nutritional status, registering 45 percent for the "very underweight" indicator, using the Body Mass Index (BMI) scale of the World Health Organization. Also, 84 per cent of the children assessed had experienced at least one diarrhoea episode in the previous month linked to hygiene habits and access to safe water.

The BMI improved thanks to work carried out through the operation, as now 70 per cent of children are 'below normal', and only 30 per cent fall within the 'severe very low weight' category. Furthermore, only 25 per cent experienced episodes of diarrhoea.

The COVID-19 pandemic, which is still ongoing at the closing of this report, has made access to health services more complex. The significant distance between communities and health centres has been compounded by the closing of access roads and decreased transportation. In addition to the reduced number of staff in health centres, prioritization is given to people with COVID-19 symptoms, and regular consultations remain suspended. As for the already limited water or electricity supply services, all municipal staff is working reduced hours, minimizing access and ability to solve problems. Regardless, the camp set up by the National Society in the area will continue to assist communities and populations with health, water, hygiene, and livelihood activities until early next year.