Health alert in El Chaltén: the community mobilizes for environmental conservation

El Chaltén is experiencing tensions and challenges as tourism grows at a faster rate than upgrading its service infrastructure. The Patagonian town located in Los Glaciares National Park, which has unique views of Mount Fitz Roy, is a key freshwater reserve for the global ecosystem and has become a booming tourist destination for its natural beauty and tourism promotion. Its success as a global climbing center and national trekking capital has led to problems of insufficient infrastructure, limitations in basic services, limited medical care and sanitation problems, including the overloading of a sewage treatment plant, as tourist arrivals increase. One of the most pressing problems facing El Chaltén is the critical condition of its sewage treatment plant. The plant’s capacity is at its limit, and just before the start of the summer tourist season, discharges with poor waste treatment have been recorded in the region’s rivers. This situation poses serious threats to public health and the integrity of natural water bodies in the area. El Chaltén is home to approximately 3,000 inhabitants and receives more than 10,000 tourists per day in high season. The health alert states that the presence of multi-resistant bacteria in the water of the confluence of the rivers puts people’s health and the biodiversity of the ecosystem at risk. Today El Chaltén is at a crossroads between the promotion of sustainable tourism and the need to address the demands for services and environmental conservation in a region that seeks to balance economic development with the preservation of its natural heritage. Patagonia has 42.2% of the influx of visitors nationwide, and although El Chaltén is known for promoting environmentally friendly tourism, the huge growth in tourism has overloaded infrastructure and public services, generating local tensions. The results of a study published in 2022 by researchers who addressed the intersection between tourism, sustainability, and political ecology show a complex reality to address.  For this reason, one of the biggest challenges in the region is to reconcile tourism with the preservation of nature in order to achieve sustainable tourism with the smallest possible footprint. The environmental conservation and management of El Chaltén represent challenges that require the attention and action of the authorities and the local community. The fight for environmental conservation in this region has been a growing concern and today residents are demanding an immediate solution for the treatment of sewage waste. Chronology of events- 2020/2021: publication of a report on the contamination of the Río de las Vueltas, which detected the presence of E. coli and Salmonella sp. in receiving waters and discharges, respectively, with high bacterial concentrations, and concentration of fecal coliforms (thermotolerant) in the Fitz Roy River (2).- 2021: organization of a collaborative mapping on the management of physiological waste in remote areas of Los Glaciares National Park, from which arose the need to carry out a baseline to identify the sources of pollution and their scope.- Winter/Spring 2021: coordination of the project “Where the Waters Are Born” between state and associative actors, with the performance of sampling for the baseline.- Early 2022: residents of El Chaltén submit requests for public information on the treatment of effluents and on the quality of water in the drinking water network, after a sewer overflow.- March 2022: drafting of the pollution report by the APN.- End of 2022/beginning of 2023: formation of the activist project “Guardians of the Basin” and community mobilization for the signing of public information request notes.- Winter 2023: response from the National Parks Administration, confirming the discharge of effluents into waterways and the detection of discharge of untreated wastewater into rivers within the Park Los Glaciares National, a worrisome problem that has persisted since 2016. It was also reported that after monitoring the levels of coliform bacteria and Escherichia coli in the Fitz Roy and De las Vueltas rivers, the results indicate higher levels of these bacteria downstream of the treatment plant of Servicios Públicos Sociedad del Estado (SPSE). – October 2023: meeting between IIMyC-CONICET researchers and health post staff to discuss the presence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the rThe Vueltas.

Original source in Spanish

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