Monday, July 12, 2010

When hunger is stronger than reason

The tragic deaths of two children in El Salvador are a vivid reminder of the plight of the poor and the hungry. To understand this story, you need to understand that the government has a program to provide seed corn to poor families in rural El Salvador. Treated to resist pests, the corn is not intended for human consumption. A story in the Latin American Herald Tribune tells what happened:

SAN SALVADOR – Two children are dead and their parents and siblings remain hospitalized after the family ate tortillas made from seed corn that was treated with pesticide, officials at Salvadoran hospitals said Thursday.

“It’s an entire family: papa, mama and five minors. Two of the five minors had already died” by the time medical assistance was available, the deputy director of Jose Molina Martinez General Hospital, Dr. Jose Roberto Gonzalez, told Efe.

The fatalities, ages 10 and 12, died Wednesday after eating the tortillas made from government-issued seed corn, which is treated with the pesticide carbamate.

An article titled, When Hunger is Stronger Than Reason, in ContraPunto, describes how the starving family, with nothing else to eat, made tortillas from the corn after trying to wash the corn in water to remove the pesticide. The article describes the many elements to blame for the tragedy -- poverty and hunger which create desperation, inadequate warnings on the packets of seed corn, and families who are illiterate and cannot read the warnings which do exist. It was a senseless and avoidable tragedy.

Oscar Luna, the Human Rights Ombudsman in El Salvador, is quoted in the ContraPunto article calling on Mauricio Funes to implement appropriate measures to ensure the right to adequate food for the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of society.

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