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Challenging Poverty Issues in Mexico
Mexico is in the southern area of North America. It is a beautiful country famous for its cuisine and tourism. However, the country is continuing to address several challenging poverty issues in Mexico.

Obesity Problem

Of all the challenging poverty issues in Mexico, obesity and the related health risks are the most common. The January 2020 OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) report states that 72.5 percent of the population is overweight or obese. Poor diet has increased the obesity rate from one in five in 1996 to one in three currently; specifically, 34 percent of adults are morbidly obese. Childhood obesity has increased from 7.6 percent in 1996 to 15 percent in 2016.

Subsequently, diabetes-related hospitalizations occur at a rate of 249 per 100,000 people. Also, heart disease mortality is currently at 27.5 percent.

The OECD’s main concern is the accessibility of healthy foods for low-income households. The report recommends healthy lifestyle investment policies to restore health care resources, that the obesity pandemic is currently draining. A 20 percent calorie reduction has the potential to save as much as MXN$1.99 million per year in health care costs. Additionally, reduction of taxing sugary drinks and high-calorie non-essential foods would likely improve obesity rates.

Poverty Eradication

The next most challenging poverty issue in Mexico is that a large number of its population is in poverty. Of the 129.2 million citizens, an astronomical 52.4 million people are living in poverty and 9.5 million are living in extreme poverty.

For the year 2020, the government has mapped out a plan to address the complex poverty issues in Mexico. Specifically, devoting MXN$470,626 million to 25 ministry programs and trusts to reduce the poverty rates in the nation. Some programs will receive more funding than others, with 60 percent of the overall budget allocated for local government and pensions. The Well Being Ministry plans to distribute MXN$ 126.7 million for pensions to 6.8 million elderly and MXN$11,600 million to people with disabilities.

Health Insurance Problem

Another poverty issue in Mexico is health insurance coverage. With 89.3 percent of the population with health insurance coverage, the total out-of-pocket expenses are typically 41 percent.

The Health Ministry plans to distribute MXN$79,900 million to health care for marginalized communities through the Seguro Popular program. In 2018, this program reached 52.8 million people that Mexico’s Social Security Program did not cover. Seguro Popular provides primary and secondary care through state-run facilities. The goal is to reach as many uninsured citizens as possible, especially those over the age of 50, who now rely on institutions that the Secretary of Health manages.

The Elephant in the Room

The most challenging poverty issue in Mexico is the immigration of refugees from the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) which consists of three countries: El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some 500,000 desperate people have taken the perilous 541-mile journey to flee the violence there only to find more violence en route.

In a heroic effort to help meet these poverty issues in Mexico, Doctors Without Borders maintains a large presence. Mobile clinics patrol the network of freight rail lines, dubbed La Bestia, that runs the length of Mexico from the border of Guatemala all the way north to the United States border. Migrants risk their life and limbs to jump the trains and shorten their trip to the United States. In the past, men typically used the railway, but women, children and sometimes entire families are increasingly using the route.

Besides the railways, and in many cases collaborating with the Ministry of Health, Doctors Without Borders maintains a presence across Mexico. Clinics for migrants and refugees exist at the northern border in Tijuana; the eastern border in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros; Coatzacoalcos on the gulf coast; Mexico City in the central-lower peninsula; Chalchihuitan and Tenosique in the lower peninsula; the Norte, Centro and Tierra Caliente regions of Acapulco; and Guadalajara on the western side of the upper peninsula.

The clinics provide food, medical and psychological care, occupational therapy, referrals for social assistance, legal advice and employment. Treatment for travel-related injuries and illnesses among the migrants and refugees run the gamut from respiratory infections, skin infections, foot injuries, injuries from falls and physical and psychological violence. In Mexico City, Doctors Without Borders runs a safe shelter specifically for victims of extreme violence and the Acapulco clinics have shifted focus to emergency response and treatment for victims of sexual violence.

Despite the challenging poverty issues in Mexico, the country is making real progress to ensure that its citizens get health care and opportunities that will help them rise above the fray. People should commend the Mexican government and the Mexican Health Ministry for their accomplishments and continued work under such difficult circumstances.

One way U.S. citizens can make a difference is to contact congressional leaders and voice a desire for an improved relationship between Mexico and the United States. An improved relationship will address poverty issues in Mexico through foreign aid.

– Lorna Kelly
Photo: Flickr

The Tarahumara Runners of Sierra Madre mountain
Since the 16th century, the Tarahumara or Raramuri have been living in the alpine valleys of the Sierra Madre mountain range in Mexico. The name Raramuri roughly means “those who run fast.” Author and journalist Christopher McDougall popularized the tribe’s tradition of long-distance-running in his 2009 best-seller, “Born to Run.” The ethnography follows the search for a mysterious man nicknamed Caballo Blanco, who people said had spent many years living with the Tarahumara runners. McDougall’s book helps the Raramuri gain international recognition as a culture centered on running. Every day Tarahumara villagers traverse steep rocky paths to grow crops, herd goats or attend school while wearing thin leather sandals called huarache. However, the on-going spread of drug violence, mining, malnutrition and extreme poverty in the region threatened their livelihoods.

High and Dry in Copper Canyon

Some 60,000 Raramuri reside in Sierra Madre and many of them live in extreme poverty. Their lack of resources comes mainly from the community’s isolation. Most of Copper Canyon is still inaccessible by 4×4 vehicles and helicopters. This makes travel by foot and horseback the only reliable source of transportation in many parts of the region.

Food Crisis

With limited access to economic opportunities or primary education, 60 percent of the Tarahumara remain illiterate. In addition, many suffer from malnutrition. In 2011, a severe drought combined with an especially cold winter ruined villagers’ crop harvests. As a result, a health clinic in the small town of Creel treated 250 Tarahumara children of malnutrition, including 25 severe cases. Along with the spoiled crops, the slow response in sending aid from government officials may have worsened the famine conditions as well.

Caught in Drugs and Mining Disputes

The Tarahumara runners have also experienced difficulties due to Mexico’s ongoing drug war and mining disputes. State and Catholic Church authorities have blamed cartel gangs as the main problem from getting aid into the region. Drug traffickers will extort Raramuri villages into growing marijuana or poppies by threatening them with violence and land theft. Additionally, mining operations in the area have displaced the Raramuri.

Some suspect that Canadian corporation Minefinders displaced 60 families to open a silver and gold mine in the small town of Madera. Corruption likely played a role in the Raramuri’s exploitation. Consequently, the community has limited options in seeking relief and support from local governmental authorities.

The Silver Lining

The Mexican federal government is planning to set up a new education system in Copper Canyons that teaches Spanish. In addition, the Mexican federal government is planning to preserve the Raramuri indigenous language along with expanding schooling in the area and implementing a $95 million road-improvement plan that the World Bank cosponsored. This plan intends to connect the Tarahumara to nearby towns and to help them utilize their forested lands.

Nonprofit organizations are also joining the effort in helping the Raramuri. NGOs like GlobalGiving distributed food packages of corn, rice, beans, sugar and oil to 542 families in 2012. The extra food is essential during the region’s drought period and can act as a backup meal supply for up to 2 months. In addition, GlobalGiving delivered prenatal vitamins to pregnant women and new mothers to help prevent infant and maternal mortality. With the aid that the nonprofit gave, the Raramuri can continue to live healthy lives and inspire the globe with their ancient tradition of foot races.

Those Who Run Fast

The Raramuri live to run. A story exists that states that they escaped the Spanish conquistadors by running into the Sierra Madre mountains over 400 years ago. Additionally, they have run ever since. Lorena Rameriz, a 24-year-old Tarahumara ultra-runner, is the focus of a new Netflix documentary titled, “Lorena, Light-Footed Woman.” The film consists of Lorena’s homeland Copper Canyon. Also, the documentary features how her family and rural lifestyle have pushed her to become one of the top winning indigenous athletes of the era. She stands out from other runners because of the traditional skirt and sandals she wears while racing in 50 and 60-mile marathons. Lorena Rameriz is taking the running world by storm while embracing her Raramuri heritage.

Extreme poverty threatens the Raramuri still living in the high mountains of Mexico. But, government development programs and charity work are helping to make a difference. The people who “run fast” have inspired a new global sporting trend of minimal footgear and barefoot running. The Tarahumara runners continue to dominate in 90 km races. Hopefully, their villages will begin to win battles against poverty as well.

Henry Schrandt
Photo: Flickr