The Greater Buenos Aires, its environmental problems, health risks and the educational crisis

The Greater Buenos Aires, its environmental problems, health risks and the educational crisis

By Leonardo Funes

The environmental situation that millions of people are going through today in the Greater Buenos Aires is extremely serious. The issue worsens day by day and government authorities, both national and provincial and municipal, seem not to perceive what is happening.

The environmental situation that millions of people are going through today in the Greater Buenos Aires is extremely serious. The issue worsens day by day and the government authorities, both national, provincial and municipal, seem not to perceive what is happening.
What is talked about when referring to "Environmental Problems". A problem is a difficult and delicate matter but one that can be solved. Environmental issues are extremely complicated and difficult, but the search for solutions must be urgent and imperative.
The last census carried out in our country showed a figure close to 37 million inhabitants. In the metropolitan area of ​​the province of Buenos Aires live (1) 8,684,953 million people, with a population density of 2392.5 inhabitants / km2. The total area of ​​the Argentine Republic is 2,791,810 km2 and that of the Metropolitan Area of ​​Buenos Aires is 3,630 km2. In this tiny space live around 24% of the total population of our country.
The subject of my analysis is how they live. In order to answer this question, I am going to address the issue by talking about contamination.
Pollution is the result of "Doing" and it is also the result of "Not doing". The result of "doing", for example, is the contamination of the surface water bodies of the area due to the contribution of solid and liquid waste of industrial and also household origin. But the "Not Doing" of the state organisms in charge of watching over and taking care of public safety, enforcing and enforcing the rights and guarantees of all, also produces pollution. This last type, in my opinion, is the most serious.
The non-existence of clear policies, with precise directions, creates an environment conducive to any type of degradation. This shortcoming favors an increase in social and economic inequalities. The number of people exposed to the health risks that arise as a consequence of the two forms, mentioned above, of contamination is in the millions.
Increasingly numerous groups live in low-lying, flooded lands, without a sewage network, with poor running water networks that do not meet sanitary requirements (hoses, broken pipes, etc.) since they are generally clandestine connections, surrounded by huge garbage dumps. open sky.
Open dumps represent a serious problem with a high health risk for people. These produce contamination of the groundwater by infiltration, obstruction of surface water courses and the elimination of their self-purification capacity. They also generate rodents.
Rodents are hosts or reservoirs of 243 diseases, among which we can name: parasitosis, enterocolitis, hantavirus, hepatitis, leptospirosis, meningitis, rabies, etc.
For these animals to develop, only three conditions are needed:
Given this, rodents will be present generating, in a very short time, populations with a high number of individuals. In the Quilmes district, more precisely in the Primavera neighborhood, there was an outbreak of leptospirosis in 2001 with 30 cases, three fatal. How many more fatal cases must occur so that once and for all awareness of the importance that environmental issues have on the quality of life of people.
It is necessary to reflect on the following question ... the statistical data in our country are doubtful. The data on diseases have critical questions that make us think about reviewing several things. When a person attends a public health center, such as neighborhood wards, there is no record of the diagnosis that is made. This also happens in zone hospitals. Most diseases are usually not adequately reported, the usual is that fewer cases are reported than actually occur. Taking data with these characteristics will undoubtedly be misleading.
Another problem is that there are diseases such as leptospirosis that have a clinical picture similar to hepatitis or meningitis, so the diagnosis is difficult and many doctors are not used to questioning the patient about environmental issues where they live. In solving problems, priority should be given to those that directly affect people's lives. That is why issues such as those discussed so far should be made a priority for political authorities when making decisions.
Another very pressing problem is the contamination of the groundwater and the elevation of the water table in the water tables. For specialists, the rise in the water table, which in many areas of the suburbs is found on the surface, is due to causes such as, the waterproofing of the soil with the indiscriminate asphalting that in the last ten years occurred throughout the area, to the extension of the running water network which stopped extracting groundwater, to deindustrialization since a large number of industries consumed groundwater for their operational processes, and lastly, the increase in the level of rainfall is named cause of climate change that has been registered. The supply of sewage fluids remains constant. A large proportion of people living in this area excrete their sewage into a cesspool.
In each home there is a cesspool, no one shares it with a neighbor and if we think that per block there are an average of 50 homes with their respective wells (3), we will have a reflection of the pollutant load that the groundwater receives in the Metropolitan area of ​​the province of Buenos Aires.
While the actors (companies in charge of drinking water and sewage liquids, municipal and provincial governments, citizens) involved in this issue, water continues its upward path. Today many people have their feet wet ... and if it continues like this ... what will happen?
A cesspool has a high pathogenic power. Consider that some twenty years ago to be able to extract water, a hole had to be drilled at a depth of 20 to 30 meters. The water from the cesspool infiltrated. Today the situation has changed, the water table is either on the surface or at a very shallow depth, a few centimeters, also reversing the sense of the sewage liquid and all its pathogenic and polluting capacity, it no longer infiltrates, now it emerges.
About ten or fifteen years ago, having to go to the atmospheric truck, as it is popularly known, to empty the cesspool was very rare, only rarely. Today the situation is the reverse, the wells are continually filling and overflowing. This situation is getting worse, since the sectors that suffer from it are the most vulnerable and their response capacity is very low. The only response that until today has been given to the aforementioned situation, from the authorities, is the installation of pumps to remove the water from the upper waters (4). Is this a solution? Where does the water that is extracted go? Was the physical, chemical and bacteriological quality of the water studied?
To my understanding this is not a solution. A true response must be based on a comprehensive planning of the use of the soil resource and the water resource and all its components. The impacts that any type of work will produce on the environment must be taken into account, enhancing the beneficial ones and mitigating or eliminating the negative ones. For example, when a large part of the streets in the area were paved ... will the impacts that this produced have been taken into account? The answer is obvious, no.
Not only does it aggravate the phreatic issue but it also contributes to increasing surface runoff, and since slopes and ground heights were not taken into account, floods increased. Needless to say, asphalt works are not
they included storm drains to evacuate the runoff that was going to be generated in each rain. The rains, as if it were a rare meteorological phenomenon, were not taken into account.

One of the causes of the floods is that described in the previous paragraph, but we must also name the waste that obstructs drains, the unfinished and abandoned works such as the case of Sarandi stream (Avellaneda) where eight or nine years ago Its tubing was projected .... It goes without saying that the work was not finished and the stream bed was interrupted. Months and years passed and the cause was filled and turned into a true open-air dump. The rest of the situation generated is known by those who suffer it. The responses of the municipal or provincial government have been heard.
The losses caused by a flood are high. Generally we hear people say "the damage caused by the last flood reaches hundreds of thousands of pesos", but how much does the anguish suffered when observing how the water invades our houses costs, there is a way to put a price on that.
Said a neighbor from Villa Corina (Avellaneda) ... "I put sandbags on the door but the water entered through the window" ...
No financial equation can quantify those kinds of moments. When it starts to rain, the question that arises among families in the area is ... won't we flood again?
Floods act as vectors of many diseases and I repeat again, the most vulnerable sectors are those with the fewest resources, the most precarious housing and poor sanitary infrastructure.
Man acts faster than his own understanding, that is, it takes much longer to interpret than to do (J. D. Perón) and this is environmentally disastrous. The management of waste in the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Area is diverse. A part of the municipalities takes their waste to CEAMSE landfills and others have their own disposal sites. However, the presence of huge open-air dumps throughout the area is very frequent. In several of these dumps it is normal to observe the settlement of families in extremely precarious squares.
Landfills generate: contamination of soil and water, clogging of drains, proliferation of insects and rodents, and thus could continue to list effects such as aesthetic affectation, transfer of environmental liabilities to future generations, etc. The tasks that are addressed must always be preventive, which is more convenient both economically and environmentally.
That is why the central role must be occupied by education. From the early stages of teaching, environmental issues should be included in educational programs. The best weapon to face the environmental crisis that we have to live is knowledge. In a talk about environmental problems, I heard a person reflect on the idea of ​​sustainable development, he said "before thinking about what land we are going to leave our children on, it would be better to think about what children we are going to leave our land" ...
The increase in urban population causes the continuous growth of problems, but not automatically, the increase of solutions (5). I mostly share this statement, but it seems incomplete to me. The increase in the urban population without planning, both in its macro and micro aspects, is what causes the increase in problems. Insufficient food, space, education, housing, medical care, running water, sewers, green spaces, transportation, etc., are its result.
The solution to this environmental trance is a challenge to the values ​​of our society since these values, which sustain human decisions, are at the root of the environmental crisis. Environmental education should not only promote understanding of problems but should also motivate participation, it should encourage people to get involved and commit.
"In order to contribute effectively to improving the environment, the action of education must be linked to legislation, policies, control measures and the decisions that governments adopt in relation to the human environment." (UNESCO).
Education is, at the same time, a social product and an instrument of transformation of the society where it is inserted. Therefore, educational systems are both agent and result of processes of social change (6).
The best form of defense we have is to commit ourselves and participate in all the issues that make up our daily and daily tasks. But not from anywhere, we must do it from knowledge. For this reason, it becomes essential, as part of the change, to lay the foundations of a strong and determined structure. The children we leave to our land must receive all the tools to be able to develop and thereby contribute to a better future, education being the mother tool. Environmental education should not be pigeonholed into an educational process but should lay the foundations to generate a new style of life. It must be open to social life, enabling effective participation in the search for solutions and alternatives to the harsh crisis that we have to face. It must lay the foundations for a new and more supportive model.

(1) Almirante Brown, Avellaneda, Berazategui, Esteban Echeverría, Ezeiza, Florencio Varela, General San Martín, Hurlingham, Ituzaingó, José C. Paz, La Matanza, Lanus, Lomas de Zamora, Malvinas Argentinas, Merlo, Moreno, Morón, Quilmes , San Fernando, San Isidro, San Miguel, Tigre, Tres de Febrero and Vicente López.
(2) Source: INDEC. National Population Censuses. 2001: Provisional results.
(3) Own data arising from a Survey carried out in ten blocks of the Villa Dominico neighborhood in Avellaneda in 2002.
(4) Clarín Newspaper, 09/13/2002, page 38.
(5) Barbetti Ricardo, Native Plants, 1995, Editorial Del Plata.
(6) José Félix Martínez Huerta, Fundamentals of Environmental Education.

* Leonardo Funes Ecological Analyst Environmental Technician Analyst in Pollution.
Degree student in Environmental Sciences. Email: [email protected]

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