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The right to a healthy environment. By Ricardo Lorenzetti

Those of us who work on environmental issues consider it necessary to disseminate some aspects of the Court’s decision regarding the fires in the Paraná Delta, to increase awareness about caring for the environment.

The Supreme Court issued an urgent precautionary measure in an injunction (“amparo” as known in Spanish), ordering the constitution of an “environmental emergency committee” to stop and control the irregular fires in the Paraná Delta.

The ruling has arguments based on the National Constitution, General Law 25,675 on the Environment, Law 27,520 on Global Climate Change, Law 26,562 on burning activities, Law 26,815 on forest fires, and Law 26,331 on native forests.

Fires have caused havoc in recent years, especially when we think about what happened in the Amazon or Australia. What was seen in the Paraná Delta is not minor, and it has generated concern in many sectors, including the national and international media.

Not infrequently we ignore our wealth or are unaware of the extreme fragility in which they are.

The Court’s ruling speaks about how valuable the region is and states: “The Paraná Delta is a vulnerable ecosystem that needs protection” (…) “It is an immense wetland and as such, in addition to hosting a rich biological diversity, it fulfills multiple and fundamental functions such as aquifer recharge and discharge, flood control, sediment and nutrient retention, shoreline stabilization, protection against erosion, climate regulation and an extensive list of goods and services to man ”( …) “Also plays an important role as a reservoir of biodiversity, providing food, shelter and breeding sites for numerous species of fish, birds, reptiles and mammals”; “Public health and the quality of life of the inhabitants of neighboring cities, such as the city of Rosario, are also affected”; (…) ”The population that obtains its livelihood from the river is also affected since they are prevented from normally accessing the sites that are part of their culture. In the same way, tourist and recreational activity is seriously hampered… ”.

We could add that it was declared a “Ramsar” site (Convention Relative to Wetlands of International Importance, held in Ramsar), covering more than 240,000 hectares, shared by the provinces of Entre Ríos and Santa Fe, and includes continental wetlands of fluvial origin associated with the floodplain of the Paraná River, in its middle and lower reaches, and includes the territories of two National Parks: “Predelta” and “Islas de Santa Fe”.

The Court claims that the Delta is in danger: “Fires cause forests to be lost,” the function of wetlands is affected, land use is abruptly changed, countless species of subtropical origin, wildlife, and flora and fauna disappear, and biodiversity ”, and“ all this causes a risk of the significant and permanent alteration of the ecosystem of the Paraná River Delta ”.

What is the solution? The first noticeable thing is the unilateral look, which consists of looking for an individual or sectoral culprit, imposing a sanction, and considering the problem solved. The result of this type of measure is insufficient because it’s a never-ending cycle.

The approach must be systemic. Environmental catastrophes are characterized by a multiplicity of small acts that, considered in isolation, seem bearable, but the action of hundreds of people over an extended period of time can cause damage.

In this case, there have been intentional fires approved for the economic exploitation of the area, which was thought to be limited; others irregular, others derived from the unconsciousness of tourist visitors, poachers, prohibited activities and all this added to the drought, the downspout of the river, in addition to the ineffectiveness of control because there are many parts involved.

Regarding this point, another characteristic question of environmental tragedies arises. The problem does not coincide with the territorial or judicial divisions and causes a series of conflicts between mayors, governors, and judicial powers that end in a circuit of ineffectiveness.

For this reason, the Court summons everyone and orders that the Provinces of Santa Fe, Entre Ríos and Buenos Aires, and the Municipalities of Victoria and Rosario, immediately constitute an Environmental Emergency Committee and, surely, throughout the process, other opinions will arise.

These are not isolated crises, but processes. A fire can be put out, but preventing it from continuing over time requires rethinking the sustainable use process in the region. This covers varied topics such as environmental education, economic incentives, investment in development alternatives for the population living in the area, and technology, such as the use of drones.

All in all, there is a right to a healthy environment, implying a personal and institutional duty and responsibility to avoid blindness towards degradation and indifference towards inaction.