- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 31, 2002

GARUPA, Argentina Her dark, sunken eyes stare at the steam wafting from a boiling pot of beans and noodles. For 12-year-old Fabiana Casapava, the watery gruel will be her only meal of the day.
Fabiana and her six brothers and sisters have been coming to a community soup kitchen for their daily sustenance the past two years.
Set in the sweltering Misiones province, her town, Garupa, is home to 32,000 people, most of whom are struggling to make ends meet. The town is 685 miles northeast of Buenos Aires, the capital.
Scrawny and underweight, Fabiana often complains of hunger. It's an ugly reflection of the times in a once-wealthy South American country crippled by a four-year recession.
Argentina prides itself as being one of the world's great food baskets, but rising food prices and unemployment owing to the protracted slump have spread hunger across a country famous for fork-tender beef and unending fields of grain.
The fiery red soil and verdant jungle around Garupa, in Argentina's remote northeastern corner near Brazil and Paraguay, make for fertile tea and tobacco plantations but little else.
Even those fields stand barren, victims of the economic turmoil. About 65 percent of the town's people live in poverty, and 70 percent of the children are undernourished.
Fabiana's parents are unemployed, and she rarely eats at home.
"In the morning, I drink milk at school, but when there are no classes, I have no breakfast," she says. "At home, sometimes we eat dinner, and other times nothing, or just tea and bread."
Children are dying or falling ill from hunger not only in Misiones and the traditionally poorer northern parts, but also in some of Argentina's richest provinces, such as the industrial region around Buenos Aires.
Ulises Soto, a physician who provides medical assistance for those who come to Garupa's soup kitchen, says malnutrition has become all too common.
"You are out walking on the street and see children who are obviously malnourished. Their stomachs are bloated, their legs frail their eyes sunken," he says.
Many of their parents are unemployed, the families barely scraping by on handouts and odd jobs. Houses are no more than huts built of wood and straw and scraps of canvas. As many as 14 persons from an extended family sometimes can be found crowded into a single dwelling.
"My dad works but he doesn't make enough to provide for us, so sometimes there is no food," says Maria Rosa Barrios, an 8-year-old eagerly downing her meal of bread and jam at the soup kitchen. She has walked 50 blocks from home for her only meal of the day.
Although the government keeps no national statistics on hunger, a study led by the University of Buenos Aires and the Society of Pediatricians estimates that the nation of 37 million people is seeing an average of 27 children younger than 5 die daily from malnutrition-related causes.
Many more are at risk, such as Gustavo, an 18-month-old weighing 13 pounds, far below the average for a child that age. Oblivious to his mother's efforts to console him, the hungry infant sobs in the waiting room of the only hospital in Obera, a city about 75 miles east of Garupa.
"To see your child like this makes you desperate," says the mother, Fabiana Bianchi, also in tears. "Each day Gustavo was getting worse to the point he was only skin and bones."

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