Ravaged by drought, the Parana Delta in Argentina, one of the largest and most biodiverse in the world, has been burning like never before since the beginning of the year.
The flames are devastating the rich biodiversity of a territory that is home to 700 species of plants and animals, according to the National Rosario and Littoral universities.
More than 530 square kilometers of swampland, an area equivalent to three times Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires, has been destroyed, according to estimates based on satellite images.
During the first seven months of 2020, more than 11,000 fires were detected in the 14,000 square kilometers (5,400 square miles) region, according to the Antonio Scasso Museum of Natural Sciences.
“The fires generate an immediate impact and others that are felt over the medium and long term: the death of animals, the loss of the natural habitat of many species, impoverishment of the soil, water and air contamination, emissions that generate climate change,” Graciela Klekailo, from Rosario University, told AFP.
Cattle farmers accused
The question on everyone’s mind, though, is who is responsible? Environment Minister Juan Cabandie accuses cattle farmers of using fire to clear dry grassland and regenerate it for their animals.
Cabandie has filed a criminal complaint against cattle producers and land tenants. But those producers deny the accusations and claim the fires undermine their activities, in turn blaming authorities for “lack of control and neglect.”
Jorge Postma, from Rosario University, says this year’s exceptional conditions have caused the catastrophe. The Parana River is much lower than normal. “Right now the level of the Parana River in the Rosario port hydrometer is 80 centimeters. Normally in this area at this time of year, it’s three or four meters,” said Postma.
The main activity in the Delta area is keeping animals for commercial purposes, but it also attracts poachers, fishermen and real estate speculators.
Javier Torres belongs to a family in the city of Entre Rios that has produced honey for decades. This year, 270 beehives in the Delta’s island areas were devoured by fire.
“It took years to build and will take me years to rebuild. I’m heartbroken. I haven’t received any help from anyone so far,” Torres told AFP.