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Irish repay 150-year-old debt

Donations to native American tribes who have been badly hit by the coronavirus crisis are flooding in from Ireland as they repay a debt dating back to the 19th-century potato famine. The Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, began in 1845 when a fungus-like organism called Phytophthora infestans spread rapidly throughout Ireland.

Donations to native American tribes who have been badly hit by the coronavirus crisis are flooding in from Ireland as they repay a debt dating back to the 19th-century potato famine.

The Irish Potato Famine, also known as the Great Hunger, began in 1845 when a fungus-like organism called Phytophthora infestans spread rapidly throughout Ireland. The infestation ruined up to one-half of the potato crop that year, and about three-quarters of the crop over the next seven years.

Because the tenant farmers of Ireland relied heavily on the potato as a source of food, the infestation had a catastrophic impact on Ireland and its population. Before it ended in 1852, the Potato Famine resulted in the death of roughly one million Irish from starvation and related causes, with at least another million forced to leave their homeland as refugees.

Currently, at least 41 people have fallen victim to Covid-19 in the Navajo nation, with the spike in cases partly attributed to a water crisis. An estimated 40 percent of the Navajo do not have running water at home, and a drought in the south-west has exacerbated the difficulties.

As the crisis intensified, the Navajo and Hopi families set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise cash to pay for bottled water.

Already more than $1.3 million has been raised with donations flooding in from Ireland. The generosity dates back to a gesture made in March 1847 when the Choctaw Tribe, which was gradually re-establishing itself in Oklahoma having been ousted from its ancestral lands in Mississippi, heard news of the Irish Potato Famine across the Atlantic.

Meeting in a building in Skullyville, Oklahoma, the Choctaw were asked to dig deep for people thousands of miles away they had never met. They did, and donations poured in.

Now, 173 years later, the gesture has been repaid with donors from Ireland opening their wallets to help.

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