Starvation, child labor and war still stalk Asia and the worldThis is part of a special series that the JoongAng Ilbo initiated with the Korea International Cooperation Agency in order to draw attention to the plight of poor children worldwide. This newspaper would like to to encourage volunteer and humanitarian efforts among its readers, wherever possible.
The original articles ran in the Joong-Ang Ilbo last month. The special reporting team consists of Ahn Sung-kyoo and Lee Chang-su in Africa, Lee Won-jin and Choi Jae-young in South America and Kim Eun-ha and Choi Byun-gwan in Asia.
Famine hits the youngsters the hardest
There were spotty rains, but the long dry spell lasting three years had caused the Malawian lands to crack apart. The riverbed had turned dry, and people were nearly starving.
As the scant corn harvest provided them barely a meal a day, Malawians were filling their stomachs with whatever mangos they could grab. The fruits were not ripe and had to be boiled first before they could be eaten.
Such conditions have led to growing malnutrition among the the people of Malawi. According to the humanitarian group Unicef 4.2 million people, or 34 percent of the population, gets less than the minimum amount of food they would need to endure the hungry season. They have to wait until March 2006 for the next corn harvest.
The malnutrition among young people is worse. A World Food Program study found that 48 percent of those five years old and younger have stopped growing. Five percent of them were severely malnourished and 22 percent were underweight.
Landauro Yusf, a 10-month-old, was sent to a hospital in Zomba, southern Malawi, and doctors there were not surprised to see the bony little boy. He only weighed 4.5 kilograms (10 pounds), which is the average weight for a 2-month-old baby. When doctors measured the girth of his forearm, the tape measure was in the red zone, indicating he was malnourished. For his age, the girth of his arm should have been 18 centimeters (7 inches), but Landauro’s arm was a mere 6.5 centimeters.
“I’ve seen several malnourished babies today. There have been dozens of them in a recent month being carried in by their mothers,” said a hospital official. A lot of them just go home because we don’t have room for further admissions.”
Another malnourished baby, Patrick Makiun, was lucky enough to be admitted, but only because he was in a critical condition. The two-year-old weighed only 4.6 kilograms and needed immediate care. He was given aspirin, Vitamin A, an anti-anemic, and F75 milk powder; a typical prescription for malnourished children at the beginning of treatment.
His mother, a Mozambique lady named Margaret Sign, said she did not know her age. She looked around the hospital ward as if to sense the cold stares from the Malawian mothers. Some Malawian women said the hospital was not big enough to hold people from other regions.
Ms. Sign was, however, desperate to save her child. She sold three bags of corn ― enough to feed her four family members for up to nine weeks, in order to pay for the trip to Malawi, where she could find medical help. She had heard that hospitals in Malawi were bigger and charged almost nothing.
She said her son was a healthy boy with plump cheeks and she had no idea why he suddenly fell ill. The drought had left the family scarcely with a bowl of corn stew a day. Then Patrick came down with a fever. The more corn stew he had, the more vomiting and diarrhea he suffered.
The Korea International Cooperation Agency promised $30,000 in addition to its earlier contribution of $70,000 after this report appeared in the JoongAng Ilbo.
Mining gold, barefoot and poisoned
A ten-hour drive on an unpaved road from Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake in the world, leads to a town called La Rinconada. It is there ― at 5,800 meters above sea level ― that Alex and Mario were born to their mining parents, Royola, 47, and Alfredo Hanari, 40.
Despite cold weather of 15 degrees below zero centigrade (5 Fahrenheit), Royola wore shoes made out of old tires, and carried a three-year-old on her back as she followed her husband who clutched a bag of gold powder the two mined during the day.
Behind them followed Mario and Alex, 11 and 5 respectively, who walked barefoot. The soles of their feet were dried and cracked, looking like turtles’ shells. Mario spends all day in gold mines during school vacations. He carriers rocks from the mine and dumps them into a bucket where they mix with mercury. The solvent dissolves and separates the gold. This job is given to the children because it is simple.
However, exposure to toxic mercury causes a variety of health problems. The children work with bare hands and have no water to wash up after work. Already, Mario complains of headaches, and is easily irritated. Girls who work in gold mines, usually from age 15, later give birth to children with deformities.
The children work all day, but earn barely 4 sols, or a bit more than one US dollar. With the money Mario saved over several months, he buys stationery needed for a school that he rarely attends.
Ernesto Garcia, director of World Learning, an NGO, estimates that of the 1.3 million Peruvian children that quit school, about 10 percent go to work in gold mines in order to help their impoverished families earn a living.
Their home: bombed and abandoned
People of Sri Lanka still bear the scars from numerous wars. In Jaffna, located an hour’s plane ride north of Colombo, lives one-fifth of the Tamil population. In 1995, government troops attacked the city in order to eradicate the Tamil rebels, only to leave the town a devastated place to live for women, children and other living things.
Ten years have passed since then. But the guerrilla attacks continue. Once the second-biggest city in Sri Lanka, people now call this place “the abandoned land.”
In one of the destroyed structures, Nigojini, 15, lives with her six family members. Her father and her grandmother were killed in the attack 10 years ago. Her house was also blown away.
The remaining family roamed about until they found a rundown structure they could use as a home.
“At least we have a roof and we can stay dry during the rain,” she said smiling. She makes popcorn at one corner of the house. Her sister Basira helps. Her mother sells the food, bringing in 1,500 rupees, or about 15 dollars, a month.
“We have to make five times more money to buy food and clothes,” said Maya, their mother.
According to one statistic, Nigojini is just one of 20 million children in Asia that became victims of wars from 1990 to 2000. In Burma and in other continents’ countries, Congo for example, children have been drafted to fight wars.
In all, sixteen out of the 20 poorest countries in the world saw warfare during the last 15 years.
by Special Reporting Team