21 April, 2018

Living near danger: 7 out of 10 settlements in Argentina are meters away from risk factors

According to a recent report launched by TECHO-Argentina the majority of settlements that they work with are next to polluted streams, streets with high-traffic, high tension towers, railroad tracks, or garbage dumps; this puts the quality of life of the surrounding residents in danger, and in some cases, these risk factors can be fatal. In the country, 7 in 10 informal settlements are less than 10 meters away from one of these risks.

In Argentina there are 6,300 houses and settlements, where 12-14 million people live, according to the government,. With such a dense population, the Secretary of Housing and Human Development of the nation, affirms that their plan of urbanization is the best response to this reality.

foto argentina3

To arrive at a house without sidewalks and paved roads

Paola Palacio is 34 years old, and since she was 9 years old, lives in the Agustoni neighborhood in Pilar, which sits behind a stream. Eleven hundred families live there and their houses are made out of metal plates and/or wood.

“When it rains a lot, it floods everything. The water covers more than half of my body and we have to move in canoes” Paola recalls as she points at the stream, a detachment of the Lujan River, that has greenish yellow color  with trash accumulating at the borders. “When the south-easterly winds rise, it not only picks up the neighborhood houses but it removes everything in its path, including the septic tanks, because there are no sewers nor draining mechanisms.”

The streets are made from dirt and the taxis cannot enter, nor the ambulances nor garbage trucks. “Here, there are no services. We are limited in the amount of people who have a light meter and the majority of people are hooked. The gas is bottled and the water is stored in a well” describes Paola, who works as a domestic employee in the country zone and is a mother of two adolescent sons.

“Those who do not have a formal connection to the electricity network are placed at risk. Some years ago, it flooded and a man was electrocuted.”

The residents of Agustoni are not the only ones who live in danger every day. “A lot of informal settlements are near places that affect their daily lives, putting their health at risk both short term and long term” explains Florencia Yaccarino, the survey director.

In accordance with the report, the precariousness of electricity installations increases the risk of short circuits, fires, and fatal accidents while the irregular connections of water or sewers can produce health consequences that are often irreversible.

Without Services

For Marina Klemensiewiz, the sub secretary of Habitat and Human Development of the nation, the risk factors that are present in 99% of the settlements are related to housing precariousness and lack of access to water and a drainage system. “This affects key health indicators and rates of infant mortality,” she declared.

She adds: “This is what we are trying to attack with the Integral Plan of Habitat and Housing, which is very ambitious. The budget that I received last year was 690 million pesos and we implemented more than 5 billion: this demonstrates that this is a decision of the State. We are carrying out 477 integral interventions throughout the country, bringing water and sewers, between other things.” This comprises the urbanization of 381 towns and informal settlements that are considered extremely complicated to convert into neighborhoods.

Paola warns: “In Agustoni, houses were burnt down and last January, due to a storm, all the light posts on this block fell: we called to file a complaint but the neighbors without a meter did not respond to it. Finally, the Civil defense came to help because the posts had high tension. Luckily, nothing happened this time but the danger always exists.

TECHO-Argentina indicates that very few progresses have been made from 2013 until last year according to the surveys. It is true that a lot of families have improved their access to basic services or obtained a property title, but these improvements are not enough.” The current housing and habitat policies are the reasons behind this problem,” says Virgilio Gregorini, the executive director of the organization.

Vitale agrees: “The improvements lag behind the growing population in these neighborhoods. Here, the water comes with low pressure, and the people store and accumulate it, which represents a risk of dengue disease since the mosquitos like standing water. A clear decision to improve housing conditions through the provision of services and infrastructure should have been made a long time ago.”

Translated and adapted from the original article in the La Nación newspaper from March 20th, 2017.