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Tarahumaras, Known For Running Great Distances, Are Facing A Food Crisis

In this photo taken on Nov. 9, 2011, Tarahumara women are seen peddling goods to passengers of El Chepe, a government-run train.
Lisa Adams
In this photo taken on Nov. 9, 2011, Tarahumara women are seen peddling goods to passengers of El Chepe, a government-run train.

This week, reports have started to filter out of the remote northern mountains of Mexico that the Tarahumara indians are facing hunger. The indians were immortalized by the book Born To Run, in which writer Christopher McDougall paints a portrait of a proud tribe that thrives on long distance running — a tribe that with little in their stomachs and even less on their feet, puts to shame even the best American ultra-marathoners.

But according to MSNBC, the Tarahumaras are suffering because of a long drought and record cold. There were even reports that some of the indians had committed suicide out of desperation, but those reports were unfounded.

Here's how Rev. Guadalupe Gasca, a Jesuit priest in the town of Creel, Chihuahua described it to MSNBC, yesterday:

"The Indians, whose life is a constant struggle to wring food out of scraggly corn plots on steep mountain slopes, don't give up easily.

"'We (Jesuits) have a history of almost 400 years working in this area, and we can say that in the Tarahumaras' world view, suicide is not an option.' But Gasca notes that in 2011, his clinic did treat 250 Tarahumara children for malnutrition, including 25 severe cases. One 3-year-old girl died of it.

"Gasca also blames the food crisis on the drought and cold. 'There has always been hunger in these hills,' Gasca said. 'There have always been climate cycles, but these cycles are getting more frequent and more severe.'

The extent of the food crisis in north central Mexico is not exactly known. A muti-party coalition of senators told El Mexicano today that while it's "worrisome," there is "in no way a food crisis, nor a lack of food in the country."

But, as Fox News Latino reports, the Red Cross is considering the situation a food emergency. "Last year, the Red Cross made two expeditions into the mountains to bring food, but this year there will be three, the latest delivery consisting of 270 metric tons of food and 5,000 blankets. The government says it has also sent millions of dollars in aid," Fox reports.

Milenio, a TV news station in Mexico, reports that there are food needs in the northern mountains, and Tarahumara leaders and others are staging a caravan to Mexico City to ask for federal aid.

Yako Rodríguez, of the Tarahumara tribe, said there have recently been four deaths due to the cold and hunger.

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.