Photo: President Fernandez de Kirchner in Tartagal. Credit: Argentine Presidency.
A massive landslide of water and mud that took place last week in the town of Tartagal, northern Argentina, left at least 12 people missing and over 1000 evacuated.
Environmentalists and indigenous communities quickly pointed the finger towards the clearing of native woods as one of the reasons behind the phenomenon. Even though the government and other organizations rushed into denying any relation, Argentine president Cristina Fernandez went into her office and signed the final ruling of a native woods protection law that had been laying on her desk for over a year.
Was this really linked to deforestation? Read more and see more pictures in the extended.
Tartagal is a city located in the province of Salta, northern Argentina, near the limit with Bolivia and Paraguay. Surrounded by mountains on one side and (what's left of) woods on the other, last Monday (Feb. 9) a massive landslide of water and mud caused by the overflow of Tartagal river came down from a hill and took a quarter of the town, pushing everything as it passed and ruining the houses of at least 1200 people.
As the country witnessed the disaster and organizations are aiding the people that were left leaving on the streets, environmental and native organizations have claimed the event is directly linked to the clearing of native woods.
But even though deforestation near the area is evident, the largest clearings are on the opposite side of the town, and the landslide came from the mountains. Still, native indigenous communities are certain that the mudslide contained trunks from cut species and they claim that if the woods had been intact, they would have been able to contain the wave.
Map of Tartagal, where you can see the mountains at one side, and the massive clearings at the other. Credit: Google Maps.
According to Pagina 12 newspaper, Tartagal used to be one of the richest regions of Salta province, with oil reserves, gas, productive lands, native woods and drinking water. But during the '90s, the oil and wood industry took down great quantities of native woods in order to open routes to reach to oil reserves and to take down ancient trees to sell wood.
Greenpeace Argentina says that over 4 thousand hectares of woods were cleared from the river's coastlines and surroundings, an area equivalent to three times the size of the city of Tartagal.
The response of the government to this accusation was of course passionate, and the head of Argentina's Environmental Office, Homero Bibiloni, said Greenpeace was allied with a group from the opposition doing politics with the disaster.
In declarations to Pagina 12, he was more polite but still in denial: "There's no empiric evidence to directly relate the landslide with the clearing, this is changing the focus of the problem. There are many causes. It's even related to the climate and land conditions of the area".
President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner might not think exactly the same, because about a day after the accusations she went into her office and signed the final ruling of a law to protect native woods that was approved last year.
That law had been approved after a massive campaign by Greenpeace with support from society, but just sat in the president's office over 12 months without the final ruling. Speculations were that there was a lot of negotiating to do with each province, since almost every local government has an interest linked to agriculture or natural resources exploitation.
Image of the after the landslide. Credit: segurocarlosfrancis
Truth is it is uncertain if the clearing of woods is directly related to this mudslide, but it is a fact that if deforestation continues, there will be many more Tartagals in the country. It is probable that the political opposition is using this as something to hold against the government, but it's also undeniable that the clearing of woods in Argentina is a no-man's-land area where local governments and companies do as they please.
It's sad that this had to happen to achieve it, but the woods law has been approved now and the local governments will have to present plans stating which areas of their provinces will be kept and how much it is authorized for clearing.