Argentina: the Parana Delta in the grip of unprecedented fires

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Struck by a terrible drought, the delta of the Argentinian Parana River, one of the most powerful and rich in biodiversity in the world, has been plagued by fires without precedent since the beginning of the year.

During the first seven months of 2020, more than 11,000 fire starts were detected in this region of approximately 14,000 km2 straddling three Argentine provinces: Between Rios, Buenos Aires and Santa Fe.

The count was carried out by the Antonio Scasso Museum of Natural Sciences, located in San Nicolas de los Arroyos, on the banks of the Parana which, with its tributaries, constitutes the third hydrographic network in the world, after those of the Amazon and the Congo. .

From satellite images, the environmental association Naturalistas Santafesino has calculated that more than 530 km2 of wetlands have been devastated, the equivalent of three times the area of ​​Buenos Aires.

The rich biodiversity of the territory where 700 species of plants and animals have been listed is severely damaged.

“The fires have an immediate effect and other effects that are discovered in the medium and long term: animal mortality, loss of natural habitats for many species, soil depletion, water and air pollution. and impact on emissions ”of CO2, explains to AFP Graciela Klekailo, of the National University of Rosario (UNR), located in the capital of the province of Santa Fe.

But where do these fires come from?

Argentina’s Minister of the Environment, Juan Cabandié, has pointed the finger at cattle farmers, accusing them of lighting fires to “clean” pastures and regenerate them.

The minister, who has flown over the area several times in recent months, has filed a criminal complaint against pastoralists and farmers.

The latter categorically reject these accusations. They claim that the fires are also limiting their activities and denounce a “lack of control and letting go” on the part of the authorities in the management of the area.

Thick smoke

For Jorge Postma, from the National University of Rosario, this disaster is to be blamed on exceptional climatic conditions in 2020, with a drought and a drop in the level of the Parana river – “Little sea” in the local Guarani language – rarely seen.

“At the moment, the level of the Parana river measured by the hydrometer of the port of Rosario is 80 cm, against 3 to 4 meters normally at this time of year,” he explains.

Javier Torres comes from a family of beekeepers in the area of ​​Victoria, in the province of Entre Rios: all his hives have been devastated. “I lost 270 beehives, it took years to build them and it will take years to restore them. It hurts me. I haven’t received help from anyone so far, ”he laments.

Depending on the winds, several towns located on the western banks of the river are regularly invaded by thick smoke which causes respiratory problems for residents, while the health context is already made difficult by the coronavirus pandemic.

In June, UNR researchers detected that the air in the city of Rosario contained five times more pollutant particles than allowed standards.

Pablo Cantador, member of the association “Pas Touche au Parana”, told AFP that the uncontrolled fires of this year “are the result of decades of abandonment of wetlands”.

Environmental associations and several universities are calling for a vote in Parliament for a law to protect these ecosystems.

This law would make it possible to determine the uses of these territories and to guarantee the environmental protection of the delta. But the text, presented twice before Parliament, never obtained a sufficient number of votes.

For Laura Prol, of the environmental organization Taller Ecologista, it is urgent that the provincial authorities and the government of President Alberto Fernandez take up the issue of the protection of the delta: “This is the most important wetland in the world. ‘Argentina. Here, we say that it is our little Amazon ”.

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