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By Raúl Aramendy
The National Governments of Brazil and Argentina are walking at full speed towards the realization of two mega-dams on the Uruguay River (Garabi and Panambi) without the necessary consultations with the affected peoples, without listening to the reasons that technicians, scientists, professionals of the health, academics, intellectuals, communicators, educators, indigenous and riverine residents have been demonstrating, each time they manage to access a public medium. Today, these mega-dams cannot be built without violating the citizen rights of the missionary people.
I feel that we are, in Misiones and this entire region, facing a key situation, which is going to demand from us, citizens, a supreme effort of dialogue, reflection and commitment to life.
During 2011, which has just begun, we will have to define about the new attempts to continue building mega dams in our region. Above all, we will have to define whether or not the mega-dams of Garabi and Panambi are built, although on the horizon, at the insistence of some public officials, the unfortunate face of the dam prohibited by Provincial Law, that of Corpus, appears again.
Determined to contribute to the process of reflection and citizen mobilization that current events demand of us, for the good of our beloved province, our descendants and our fellow men, I will try, starting today, to contribute ideas that will help us, I hope, to act decisively and responsibly.
It is time to think and debate. Publicly. Rejecting any blackmail they want to do to us about "not yet", "the time is not right", "our good intentions can be misused by the usual bad guys", and so on. etc.
The National Governments of Brazil and Argentina are walking at full speed towards the realization of two mega-dams on the Uruguay River (Garabi and Panambi) without the necessary consultations with the affected peoples, without listening to the reasons that technicians, scientists, professionals of the health, academics, intellectuals, communicators, educators, indigenous and riverine residents have been demonstrating, each time they manage to access a public medium.
It is time for all voices to be heard, democratically. And the population is consulted, after a broad and respectful debate. It is not possible, nor should it be, continue to advance in the sense of building the two named mega-dams (and no other, of course) without listening to the arguments that many people have to give and without consulting the people of Misiones that they cannot mortgage their popular sovereignty and the rights that as a province we have over the management of our rivers. The law protects us, the law protects us and democracy obliges us to be strict in its defense. Which I cannot believe is in the plans of governments voted by the people, and that if, for some reason, this is the case, we cannot and should not allow it.
This model of electric power generation through monumental dams is only functional to a non-sustainable development model. And for this reason, I think, we have to reflect on mega-dams in relation to what type, what model, of development we want for our province, for our region, for our countries, for our Latin America, that fundamental reference space.
I am going to try, with arguments, debatable like all arguments, in the necessary debate of ideas that must be promoted in these crucial moments, to justify why I am opposed to the mega-dams being made, when there are other alternatives to generate electricity, more valid , more sustainable, healthier, fairer, with fewer negative consequences, with low social, economic, environmental, cultural and, perhaps it should be said above all, health impacts.
Although I am not a person dedicated, by profession, to health, but to education and agroecology, I will begin by sharing with you the health arguments that, by themselves, were more than enough, to convince me of the inappropriateness of the proposal " represadora ”, as a friend of mine calls her, an ecologist dedicated to politics and photography.
Schistosomiasis and its best breeding ground
"We must start from the principle that economic development should not deteriorate health or cause disease" Basic Principle of the WHO, p. 103, "Parasitic diseases and hydraulic development", 1994.
Schistosomiasis (we will have to familiarize ourselves with this name, difficult as it may sound) is a disease caused by parasites of the genus Schistosoma (Platyhelminthes, Trematoda), and is endemic in tropical and subtropical areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
WHO informs us that:
In our continent, the species responsible for the disease is Schistosoma mansoni, which is predominantly found in Brazil, next to us.
The infection is produced by worms that penetrate the skin in contact with water, causing hives in it, to later locate in the veins of different organs, mainly the liver and intestine, in the case of intestinal schistosomiasis, or in those of the bladder in that of bladder schistosomiasis, where they produce inflammatory reactions and scars. As a consequence of them, portal hypertension and hepatic fibrosis appear in the intestinal form, or urinary changes in the bladder.
Intestinal schistosomiasis is caused mainly by Schistosoma mansoni. More than 200 million people in the world suffer from it and it can last between 20 or 30 years of life, with serious consequences. Bladder schistosomiasis is associated with bladder cancer for example.
In fresh water live larval forms of the worm that penetrate the skin of people who come into contact with it when washing, bathing or crossing rivers. Later they pass into the bloodstream to reach the lung and liver, where they achieve sexual maturity, finally locating in the veins of the intestine; In them they deposit the eggs that appear in the stool with the stools in intestinal schistosomiasis. In the bladder form the adult worms are arranged in the veins of the bladder, the eggs appearing in the urine; if they come into contact with water, the eggs hatch, releasing larval forms that will enter snails, where they develop part of the cycle.
Later they are released into the water, swimming free until they reach a new subject.
The risk is high for rice farmers, fishermen, etc., as well as for travelers who put their bare skin in contact with infested waters. All water in an endemic area should be considered potentially contaminated. It should be remembered that it is not necessary to bathe the whole body to contract the disease, but that simply wading a stream with the water at mid-leg or even hanging a limb into the water from a boat or canoe would be enough if the river were infested.
WHO warns us:
It is one of the priority tropical diseases for the World Health Organization. Perhaps that is why this UN body advises against making dams in tropical and subtropical areas, between the subtropics of Cancer and Capricorn, between parallels 30 north latitude and 30 south latitude.
Missions, it must be remembered, is located between parallels 25 and 27.
But what does this serious parasite have to do with dams?
The spread of these diseases is associated with the alteration of the river regime: for what it has been called the disease of dams. These mega reservoirs create favorable conditions for the development of schistosomiasis. It already affects several million people in Brazil (between 6 and 15 million people), and the northeast of Argentina is considered a risk zone.
Let's look at two maps and the overlap that we find in them between dam areas, in Brazil, and the spread of this disease.
Schistosomiasis patients have already been detected in San Francisco do Sul, a place close to Itajai, Brava Beach and Camboriu, places that are very visited by missionaries in summer, 700 km from Misiones. Cases were also detected in Itaipu.
Two of the three species of Biomphalaria (snails) transmitting in America inhabit the country and the experimental infestation of local snails with Brazilian strains of the parasite has been positive. On the other hand, the dispersal of B. glabrata is expanding towards the southwest of Brazil and, consequently, it is approaching our border.
The endemic area in our neighbor, restricted to the impoverished Northeast at the beginning of the century, expanded towards the Southwest due to migratory movements and the construction of reservoirs in the southern states. Since the 1940s, the north of the state of Paraná - which borders the province of Misiones - has become a hyperendemic zone on the tributaries of the Paraná River, where dozens of dams were built (see maps). Biomphalaria glabrata - a species that does not exist in Argentina today - is the transmitting snail there. Already in the 70s, important populations of this species - and autochthonous foci of the disease - were detected some 200 km from the Argentine border. The limit of its distribution was located in 1965 in Curitiba, where there was an outbreak; that population became extinct in 1982, but in 1997 B. glabrata was found much further south, near Porto Alegre. Brazilian populations of B. tenagophila - a very common species on the Argentine coast - were refractory to S. mansoni 40 years ago, but have shown a gradual adjustment to a breed of the parasite. The southernmost focus of schistosomiasis in Brazil -San Francisco do Sul, in Santa Catarina, 1980- is associated with this species.
In recent decades, the Mesopotamian region has seen the regime of its rivers altered, due to the construction of dams such as those of Itaipú and Yacyretá, a situation that is usually directly associated with the spread of schistosomiasis.
It was always thought that this disease, which has irreversible sequelae when it becomes established and becomes chronic, would never reach Argentina. But as the watershed is in constant motion, contaminated water, snails and infected humans that in 1976 were almost a thousand kilometers away are now on the border and, if urgent measures are not taken, schistosomiasis in a short time He is going to enter Argentina through Misiones. And one of the fundamental measures is to stop, definitively, with the mega-dams in this region, at the risk of having to regret it healthily.
In our country, the risk is centered on the Plata Basin, which occupies 32 percent of the Argentine territory and which we share with neighboring countries such as Brazil and Paraguay, where the disease is already installed.
The important thing is to prevent the disease from entering the country, because once installed it is very difficult to eradicate.
The risk that we already run with Yacyreta, which continues to grow to new heights, faced with the passivity or impotence of hundreds of thousands of missionaries is very high. Are we going to add Garabi, Panambi or Corpus? Is it sensible to do so? Especially when there are other alternatives to generate electricity, with less risks and consequences.
We will return to this in future articles. Although we still have a lot to talk about the health consequences. We will dedicate the next reflection to the latter, to finish establishing the NO to Garabi and Panambi, from the point of view of health security and well-being.
Raul Aramendy Director of CEMEP-ADIS
1) "Control of schistosomiasis", Report of a WHO Expert Committee (World Health Organization), Technical Report Series 728, WHO, Geneva, 1985;
2) "Garabi Hydroelectric Dam Project, Preliminary Report", Ruth A. Poujade and Néstor C. Álvarez, Researchers from the UNAM Faculty of Social Sciences, Photocopy, no date;
3) "Snails transmitting schistosomiasis in the southeast of the province of Corrientes", Borda C Edgardo, Rea María J, Benítez, Osvaldo D, Mosqueda Luís A., Faculty of Medicine, National Center for Parasitology and Tropical Diseases (Cenpetrop) , Scientific and Technological Communications 2008, Secretary General of Science and Technology, National University of the Northeast;
4) "Parasitic Diseases and Hydraulic Development", J. M. Hunter and others, Report of the WHO (UN), Geneva, 1994.
Extracted from the work cited as 1 in the Consulted Bibliography.
“In Central and South America the natural transmitters of schistosomiasis are the snails B. glabrata, B. straminea and B. tenagophila. Despite the fact that the last two species exist in Argentina, to date no snails have been found naturally infected with S. mansoni. But, we have shown that the extensive Paraná basin both on the right bank of Paraguay in the localities of Encarnación and Ayolas and on the left in the provinces of Misiones and Corrientes (Posadas, Berón de Astrada, Rincón de Vences, Maloyas and Goya) there are populations of B. tenagophila that are susceptible and compatible with S. We also demonstrated that the rodent Holochilus braziliensis, which shares the same ecological niche, could act as a reservoir.
Recently it has been shown that B. tenagophila, which inhabits surface waters of the Miriñay, in the towns of Paso de los Libres and Mercedes, were also susceptible.
In the present work, it was demonstrated that another population of B. tenagophila, originating from the Copra dam in the department of Mercedes, is susceptible and compatible with the SJC2 strain of S. mansoni.
This finding has great epidemiological importance in the natural history of schistosomiasis, because in order for the disease to establish itself in Mesopotamia Argentina, due to the lack of sanitary control at the border, the infected man can arrive so that the chain of transmission is closed. "
Quote extracted from university research cited as 3 in the Consulted Bibliography.
Citation of the work considered in the Consulted Bibliography as 4.