By Arnaldo Pérez Guerra
The indiscriminate export and exploitation of natural resources remains the secret of our "economic growth". The environmental impact of these policies is not yet fully measured.
The indiscriminate export and exploitation of natural resources remains the secret of our "economic growth". Garbage management and the high levels of environmental pollution (smog) are examples of the negligence with which the authorities act, and the lack of a coherent environmental policy. Unfortunately, they are not the only environmental problems we face.
The production of minerals and, mainly, tailings, pollute not only the soil, water, air, flora and fauna; also, the health of a defenseless population. Forest companies and related wood transformation processes cause serious damage to the ecosystem, particularly to the soil and water in our country. The substitution of native species degrades and leads to the definitive disappearance of our forests. The massive use of pesticides and pesticides impacts the population and the environment. Pulp manufacturing produces highly hazardous waste. Industrial fishing, which has taken over our sea to the detriment of artisanal fishing, has led to the collapse of species, depleting resources, while the transformation of the product into fishmeal contaminates entire cities. Cities continue to grow irrationally, and with them pollution, which affects the quality of life and challenges the management of the governments in power. Once again, market criteria prevail, regardless of the cost they will have on the population and the environment. Garbage, smog and pollution, like many other problems that have to do with the public interest and the health of the population, have been and are poorly managed.
"Who pays the costs?"
The economist and executive director of the Terram Foundation, Marcel Claude, criticizes the ineffectiveness of the policies and the little relevance that environmental and social issues are on the government's agenda. "Garbage has a double social and environmental face. By this, I mean that environmental problems normally affect the most vulnerable sectors and end up being managed ineffectively. The solution to the Lepanto landfill is an archetypal case" . The Metropolitan Solid Waste Company (Emeres) thought to solve the problem through a tender, but in the course of this there were many irregularities. "It was never clear what was going to be evaluated. It was not known if it would be the technical criteria or the costs per ton, the leaching, the treatments of percolated liquids, gases, the waterproofing, etc. If that was relevant, versus the economic." This problem went through the entire bidding process, and even the companies that participated in it objected.
The choice of the Santa Marta and Santiago Poniente sanitary landfills was made independently of the resolutions of the National Environmental Commission (Conama) and the evaluation of the Environmental Impact Study (EIA) of the Metropolitan Corema. "The choice was made two months before. How relevant was the environmental and technical criterion in Emeres' decision? Fines have never been applied to consortia for their delay in the works to implement the sanitary landfills. The tender was established that the price per ton of garbage would be fixed, but, finally, the contract -of Emeres with the Santa Marta consortium- speaks of “variable prices.” The government even changed the criteria of the Regulatory Plan of the Metropolitan Region: before a The garbage dump could not be installed less than 600 meters from an inhabited area. That dropped to 100 meters. The concept to define 'populated area', too. Before it was a room, today there are 300 people. If there is a group of families of 299 people You can install the garbage dump there, like someone who says 'in the middle of the square' ", says Marcel Claude.
A CRIOT study carried out between 1994 and 1996 determined which places were suitable for installing sanitary landfills, however this research has not been taken into account by the tenders. "The country lost enormous resources in this study. But, from the true results, we realize that health, technical and environmental criteria are not relevant. There is great political irresponsibility in this matter, because who pays the costs ?: the citizenship".
The complaints of subterranean layers less than two meters, geological faults and poor waterproofing, show that technically the landfills that were finally tendered were not viable solutions. "The opinion of specialists, neighbors, studies was never considered; they were simply discarded. Today we realize that it seems that it was important to keep them in mind. What criteria were considered? What prompted the authority to opt for this 'solution'? . We don't know, "says Claude.
Beyond the controversy over the "predictive errors" or the responsibility of the Mayor of Santiago, Marcelo Trivelli, and the directors of Conama, are the death figures. At the end of these lines, the press reported the death of at least three people, two minors and an elderly man, due to problems that could be associated with the serious pollution rates of recent weeks in the capital. A study by researcher Luis Cifuentes warns that 4,000 people die prematurely each year, due to long exposure to Santiago's smog. The effects on health are not only suffered by vulnerable sectors, but by anyone who maintains permanent exposure or exposure to high concentrations for short periods.
"The 'alerts',' pre-emergencies' and 'emergencies' section the problem: it is like' kick a debt '. A criterion is defined for' environmental alert 'or' pre-emergency ', which should be that of' emergency ', according to international standards. The criteria should be defined based on the health of the population and not on the requirements of the Manufacturing Development Society (Sofofa). Productivist criteria prevail:' don't stop the industry ',' that the car fleet and catalytic vehicles continue to function. 'That is what happens. It is quite mediocre to section the measures to be taken based on certain increasingly demanding criteria. Thus,' emergency 'measures will be taken when we are really drowning and dying.
In addition, there is the embarrassment that government agencies measure poorly and do not take action when it should. "
The problem of smog is very similar to that of garbage or other environmental conflicts such as the "Camino Costero Sur", pulp production or mining tailings. What matters, for authorities and economic groups, is that the economy grows: "It doesn't matter how it grows, or how or what is produced. In this way, once again the environment is in the basket of papers; and the health of the population, without any political relevance. "
It is no mystery to anyone that the poor, for example in the communes of Pudahuel, Cerro Navia and Lo Prado in the capital, are those who suffer the most from smog rates. "This is very serious and shows the political weakness of the Concertación, which is not capable of governing for the majorities that elected it," says Claude.
The solutions are to impose restrictions on the private car park, change the public transport system, confront the transport unions and the mass of motorists; measures yes thinking in the short term. The key is an effective decontamination plan and a coherent urban policy. "They are not going to do it because the political, economic and social power is there, pressing and defending their interests. The cost of polluting should be internalized in those responsible. The criterion of 'the polluter pays' is misunderstood. It is not "If I want to pollute, I pay." The polluter should pay the cost, and not a bicoca. If that cost were truly imputed, they would stop polluting or lower the rates. We want that criterion to operate, that "the cost of pollution , but it must also be paired with alternatives: raise taxes on gasoline and, with those funds, finance a coherent reorganization of public transport. We propose that polluters pay the real cost of polluting. But the government does not. is going to do, because paying taxes in Chile is more serious than being a rapist or a thief. Solutions such as Tradable Emission Permits are proposed -only by neoliberal ideological criteria-, which are ridiculous and will not solve nothing. Market solutions that have proven ineffective in other countries "..
Chile, July 2002.
* Arnaldo Pérez Guerra