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Stream: Environmental Contempt + Broken Promises

Stream: Environmental Contempt + Broken Promises


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By Sergio Giachino

The stream has the stigma of being the postcard of a Latin America devastated by the economic ambitions of power. Looting its natural resources, extinguishing its flora and fauna, and making it an area only remembered in electoral times.


During the 1920s, to speak of social transformation, economic progress and industrialization, was to point our eyes towards the Riachuelo River. The immigrants who arrived from Europe, enthusiastically settled in an area that promised development and economic growth impossible to find in their land.

Río Pequeno, Río de los Querandíes, Río Chuelo, Río de Buenos Aires; This is how the current Riachuelo was called throughout history. A river with a turning course that flows into the Río de la Plata after traveling 80 km from its source. It begins in Las Heras, province of Buenos Aires, where the Castro and Cobey streams join, forming, in Paso de la Horqueta, the Matanza river, which is renamed Riachuelo at the height of the La Noria bridge. Currently there are powerful factories installed on its banks and they are the main cause of its pollution.

In the last decades, the Riachuelo has assumed a state similar to the current one, and many of the streams that poured their waters into it dried up or disappeared as a result of the rectification of this river.

By the year the first Europeans settled near its banks, in 1536, the Riachuelo had a fairly abundant and varied fauna and flora. Very different from the current one.

The Riachuelo area overflowed frequently creating lagoons and swamps. Its surroundings were humid, they had abundant grasslands, dense and varied vegetation. On its bank there were the groves of black sarandíes, ceibos, blanquillos, thick bushes of white plumes.

Reeds predominated on the ground floor and camalotes floated. Its valley was invaded by wild straw grasslands, there were also white peaches. As said, the valley floor was extremely waterlogged, and grasses predominated. In its ravines and banks, which had a height of between 8 and 20 meters, there were thickets of calafate, ñapindá, cactus, silk flower and eye killer. At the top were small forests of hawthorn, kidney bean, acacia, blackberry, false sarsaparilla, bull's shadow, etc. On the banks the red willow appears with high frequency, not the weeping willow that would arrive in the area around 1810 from the hand of man.

On the plateau there were groups of trees with more trunk development. The carob trees, talas, espinillos, chañares, coronillos negros, ceibos and, from time to time, an ombú were given. There was also the thistle, so called by the first Spaniards to arrive in the area, but in reality it was the "field carrot", an edible vegetable.

The fauna of the region was abundant and varied. There were toads, frogs, snakes, snakes, and insects in abundance. Of the latter we can list the scorpions, crickets, cockroaches (inevitable and eternal) weevils, moths, the tireless and annoying horseflies and mosquitoes, moscardones, flies, worms, ants. The insatiable lobster, butterflies, ticks, etc. were also present. The chronicler Félix de Azara tires of describing the different insects that populated the region.
The fauna was characterized by the deer, the jaguar, which appears as a puma or panther in numerous chronicles, there was also the otter. There were also four hundred and forty species of birds. Bats were flying around the area. Storks and flamingos could be found in the lagoons. Teros, chajá, martinetas, as well as hairy and cuises populated the plains. The rhea ran calmly across the plateau. Fish were also abundant, there were mandubíes, silversides, paties, bogas and the occasional dorado.

The inhabitants of the Riachuelo areas were Querandíes. This was a town of hunters and fishermen, they hunted deer and rheas with boleadoras, they also fished on the banks of rivers and lagoons. In the early days they got along well with the Spanish who came to the area of ​​the current Riachuelo. But the Spanish wanted more. With the passage of time the Querandíes were extinguished. Others emigrated. A fairly well-known and cruel process in our region.

As we described above, going back centuries before the arrival of the Spanish to describe the landscape of the Riachuelo River was to narrate a postcard very different from its current situation. A postcard with hope for progress and work. It was talking about nature itself, with a living flora and fauna. From a place where, for example, wetlands abounded. And where the settlers could even bathe.

To see a photograph of the Riachuelo from decades ago is to move, for example, to a current postcard of the Uruguay River. What a coincidence if you will, Uruguay is one of the rivers threatened in our country by polluting industries.

The urgency to promise and not deliver (subtitle)

If there is something that abounds in the Riachuelo besides pollution, it is the promises that were made in its history. In addition to promoting, decades ago, progress and economic development, promising thousands of jobs, the Riachuelo today is a campaign bastion for every candidate who needs votes.

Currently its water course almost does not exist, and it is replaced by a kind of oily sludge, waste from the industries that pollute it. Bad smells. In its margins the garbage of the inhabitants of its sad riverbank abounds, with precarious houses. It looks like a biblical page where the apocalypse is narrated. It is the harsh reality of one of the regions devastated by neoliberal policies. Factories closed and abandoned. Chipped. Process of misuse of natural resources. Today there is only pollution and misery. Unthinkable if we were aware of the need to take care of fresh water.

At present, there are more than 3,000 factories installed and it is estimated that 88,000 cubic meters of industrial waste are dumped into the stream daily. The current tolerable level of Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD) is 4 milligrams per liter, while at the mouth of the Riachuelo it was verified that the average BOD is 26.2 milligrams per liter.

As reported by the La Boca Neighborhood Association, these 3,000 factories throw the following contaminants into the Riachuelo: cadmium, mercury, nickel, lead, chromium, arsenic, selenium, phenols, benzenes, toluene, chlorinated hydrocarbons, pesticides, herbicides, pesticides , human and animal waste, organic materials in suspension, detergents, among others.

The report of the Association of Neighbors of La Boca denounces that, "only 3 percent of the industries that pollute have installed purification processes." This level of contamination was verified by the National Ombudsman's Office in 2003, which promised an updated report.


The population of the Matanza-Riachuelo basin is almost 5 million people, which represents 13.5 percent of the Argentine Republic. This situation is aggravated because 55 percent of the river basin population does not have sewers and 35 percent does not have the drinking water network. Due to the high levels of pollution, these neighbors suffer respiratory diseases, skin diseases and even hepatitis. The rivers of the basin receive 368 thousand cubic meters of domestic wastewater per day and only 5 percent receive the treatment they need to avoid being polluting.

In the history of the Riachuelo what abounds are promises, and more promises ... from the thousand days of María Julia, to the technical reports and the unfulfilled promises of Macri and Scicoli to clean up the account. They all promised the same. Everyone was left with only those promises. And with a millionaire budget. Those promises appear to be tainted. Even the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation in 2007 ruled that it is urgent to clean up the basin, landscaping its riverbank and the construction of sewage treatment plants and running water. But meanwhile, families live there. Guys grow up on the edge of that polluted river. They breathe an unbearable smell every day. What Argentina are we building when we let part of the future grow up in these subhuman conditions?

Side note: Brazil cleaned up its stream

The Tieté São Paulo and the Riachuelo Buenos Aires / Buenos Aires had some similarities that made them "relatives": the sewage without treatment, the foul smell, the total absence of fish, the dirt on its banks, the sporadic floods and the total impossibility of navigating them. . Also, of course, the eternal political promises that one day they would be clean again.

The river runs in the middle, and on each of its banks are these avenues, through which more than 350,000 vehicles circulate per day.

The Tieté has the difficult mission of collecting all the rainwater in the city, as well as a hundred streams that cut the city and that end up being taken by clandestine sewers and industrial waters without treatment.

San Pablo, the largest city in South America, also has "its" Riachuelo. It is called Río Tieté and its waters run for 40 kilometers within the metropolitan area. The Tieté is an old acquaintance of the Paulistas. You see it constantly when you drive through La Marginal -a very wide collector of cars and trucks through which you leave the city, go to the airport or cross this gigantic city from one side to the other-

The Tieté São Paulo and the Riachuelo Buenos Aires / Buenos Aires had some similarities that made them "relatives": the sewage without treatment, the foul smell, the total absence of fish, the dirt on its banks, the sporadic floods and the total impossibility of navigating them. . Besides, of course, the eternal political promises that one day they would be clean again.

As the days of the Riachuelo passed, the Tieté changed completely. In 1999, with a loan of 400 million dollars from the Bank for International Cooperation of Japan, the State of São Paulo began work to recover the river. A first part of the work, which had the objective of eliminating urban floods, was done with another 400 million dollars -200 million from the Inter-American Development Bank-. The first measure was to deepen the river bed and widen it, from 22 to 46 meters. With the work, the possibility of a flood like those that used to occur as soon as it started to rain was reduced to almost zero.

The startup numbers are impressive. To make the Tieté larger and free of garbage, 15,000 tons of mud and waste were removed, as well as 120,000 tires. Between 2002 and 2005, 200 machines -cranes, boats and trucks- and 4,000 employees worked, divided into three shifts, to work 24 hours on the site. The grasslands that surrounded the entire course of the river - and that scared those who had just landed for the first time in the city and had to circulate through the Marginal seeing the river on their left - were completely eliminated. In their place, concrete ramps were built. The mud and waste removed from the river were destined for companies specialized in treating them until they are converted into compost. And the tires were recycled and became a protection for the guard-rails of Avenida Marginal.

Along the avenue, 9,000 trees and 100,000 shrubs are being planted, in addition to lawns. Also cherry trees, a native plant of Japan, as a thank you to the credit and advice given by that country. The governor of San Pablo, Geraldo Alckmin, announced this week that he intends to turn that corridor into a bicycle lane.

The river decontamination project included the connection of the house sewers to the sewage network and the inspection of the industries that surround the Tieté and the city's streams. In 1994, the infrastructure allowed only 24% of all sewage that reached the river to receive treatment; today there is already infrastructure to treat 85%.

Before the start of the Tieté cleanup, the river's contamination stain extended 300 kilometers into San Pablo. The spot has already receded 120 kilometers and today it is possible to find fish 180 kilometers away.

Luis Esnal
La Nación newspaper


Video: BMC Sunday Service (July 2022).


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