December 8, 2016

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Private profit and public loss

December 12, 2016

During a recent visit to Uruguay, we ended up finding out about the serious water contamination problems impacting the city of Dolores, a small city in western Uruguay, on the banks of river San Salvador, and very close to Rio Uruguay.  This region of Uruguay is a large producer of soybeans and other grains, and such production is not organic at all. Pesticides and other agrotoxic substances are liberally dispensed, often by air, thus achieving a memorable trifecta:  air pollution, soil pollution and water pollution.  The run off water contaminates the small rivers in the region, and then of course Rio Uruguay, which is the border between Argentina and Uruguay for  495km.   Many questions arise from this situation. First, and foremost, public health. There are suspicions that the pesticides and herbicides in the water, in the air, or both, could explain the large number of cancers in this region. However, agriculture is the basis of the regional economy, and to discuss public health risks is a taboo for many.  

1. The landowners are happy selling their soybeans, and don't seem to care about the health risks associated with aerial spraying. Unfortunately, they themselves are exposed to the risks, and so are their families, unless they are are absentee landowners, which seems like a wise option.

2. The local government is very much influenced by the large farmers, knows very well that the economy of the region depends on agriculture, and is afraid of the economic consequences of any discussions around pesticides and herbicides, water pollution, cancer and so forth. The ostrich strategy is rapidly adopted. 

3. The population does not seem to have the drive and/or the means to fight for their right to clean air and water.

As a consequence of the above three facts, the status quo is maintained.  The ideal situation for a farmer is to grow the soybeans but live very far away so that one has the profits but not the contamination associated with the activity. If any of them sees this post we will be glad to sell him an apartment in Miami. Is that an option for the rest of the locals? 


When will things change?  When the local government realizes that their first and foremost job is to protect the inhabitants of the region. That is a long shot.  Maybe we have to wait for the locals to start complaining? Complaining to whom? To the local government? Or maybe to the central government?  Good luck with that. Maybe the solution is an international scandal.  In fact, since the Uruguay river is the border with Argentina, does Uruguay or Argentina have the right to pollute a common river? No, but  unfortunately in Argentina this irresponsible form of agriculture is also the norm, so how can they sue Uruguay?  All that all that water, pesticides and herbicides, and the organisms contaminated by it,  eventually make it to international waters,  progress up the food chain, and the fish caught in those waters end up being eaten by someone in a restaurant in New York, Frankfurt or Beijing. is this not an international matter?  Water pollution is a global matter and it is clearly man made.  Global warming (if it even exists) is maybe man made. It certainly is controversial, and widely discussed, and an excuse for a carbon tax. Water pollution is clearly man made, but where are the international measures to stop it?   Another way to force change, is for the buyers of the soybeans and other grains to demand that they be grown without polluting the environment. Thats another long shot.   As long as the public loss is not properly calculated, and polluters and all those who profit from the pollution are made fully accountable, in civil and criminal courts, nothing will ever change, in Dolores, or anywhere else in the world.  I hope that this post will give a small contribution to motivate people in the many Dolores of this world to stand up for their water rights.



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