Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Poverty & SDGs

Millennium Goals Far Off for Mexico’s Indigenous Population

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Oct 18 2010 (IPS) - It is unlikely that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), a series of anti-poverty targets adopted by the international community, will be met for Mexico’s indigenous people, a new United Nations report says.

Presentation of report on indigenous people in Mexico Credit: Courtesy of UNDP Mexico

Presentation of report on indigenous people in Mexico Credit: Courtesy of UNDP Mexico

“Poverty has been reduced, but the inequality is worrying,” Rodolfo de la Torre, head of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) human development research office in Mexico, told IPS.

Of the eight MDGs, he said, “the least progress has been made on cutting maternal mortality” — the fifth of the eight goals set by the world leaders gathered at the U.N. General Assembly in New York in 2000.

In Mexico, 3.3 million indigenous people are unable to satisfy their basic nutritional needs, according to figures from the Ministry of Social Development.

And 38 percent of Mexico’s indigenous people live in poverty, according to the UNDP report on the human development of indigenous people, titled “El reto de la desigualdad de oportunidades” (The Challenge of Inequality of Opportunities), released by the UNDP Monday in Mexico City.

The 120-page report does not directly refer to progress made towards the MDGs, but addresses issues linked to the goals, such as access to education, health care, clean water and sanitation.

The eight MDGs, which take 1990 levels as a baseline, set a 2015 deadline to halve the proportion of people suffering extreme poverty and hunger, achieve universal primary education, promote gender equality, reduce child mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-fourths, combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases, ensure environmental sustainability, and develop a global partnership for development.

Mexico has made progress in fighting poverty and improving primary school enrolment, and has virtually met the goal of halving the proportion of people without access to piped water and basic sanitation, according to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).

But half of the country’s indigenous women and 42 percent of indigenous men have not completed primary school, the UNDP report notes.

The study, which compares for the first time the living conditions in the country’s 156 indigenous municipalities, 393 non-indigenous municipalities and 1,905 municipalities inhabited by people of mixed-race descent.

This Latin American nation, made up of 2,454 municipalities, has a population of 108 million people, approximately 12 million of whom are classified by the census as indigenous people.

The Mexican census identifies municipalities as indigenous if the local population preserves native languages, traditions, beliefs and cultures.

In indigenous areas of the country, the maternal mortality rate stands at 300 per 100,000 live births, as high as countries in sub-Saharan Africa, says the report, which points to the enormous gap between this rate and Mexico’s national average of 60 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.

The 2010 infant mortality rate among indigenous people is 22.8 per 1,000 live births, compared to 14.2 per 1,000 for the population at large, according to the government’s National Population Council (CONAPO).

“The indigenous population is at a disadvantage, principally in the areas of health and education. And in both these areas, the inequality of achievement within this population group is higher than what is observed in the non-indigenous population,” the report says.

“There are problems across the board,” Esperanza Vargas, a lawyer from the Tzotzil indigenous group in the southern state of Chiapas, told IPS. “We can’t say we are vulnerable in just one area; we are vulnerable on almost every front.”

Chiapas, the only state that has incorporated a mandate to comply with the MDGs in its constitution, has a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.61 for the local indigenous population — the worst rate for native peoples in any of the country’s 31 states or federal district.

The southern states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Chiapas, the country’s poorest, have the highest concentration of native people.

The HDI, a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education and standard of living, has been measured by the UNDP within Mexico since 2002.

The infant mortality rate this year for indigenous people in Chiapas is 24.2 per 1,000 live births, one of the highest in Mexico, CONAPO reported.

“We know there are huge gaps,” Xavier Abreu, head of the National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, said at the presentation of the report. “There is inequality; spending in indigenous areas is lower than in non-indigenous regions.”

The UNDP and the Mexican government are producing a national report on progress in meeting the MDGs.

De la Torre said “The thrust of the report is that different identities should not translate into different opportunities. There must be equal opportunities, in order to come to grips with different identities.”

In Mexico, native groups have an HDI of 0.68, compared to 0.76 for non-indigenous people, the report states.

“There are many red zones,” said Vargas, who is studying for a master’s degree in constitutional studies at a private college in Chiapas. “It is unlikely that the lag will be overcome in just a few years, but some progress has been made.”

In the national budget for 2010, some 3.43 billion dollars were earmarked for indigenous communities, and a slightly higher amount — 3.6 billion dollars — has been allotted in the 2011 draft budget that the administration of Felipe Calderón sent to Congress for approval.

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