A new opportunity to improve quality of life in the Matanza-Riachuelo river basin

The Court issued a follow-up ruling to its 2008 decision that reaffirmed the need to mend the environment and prevent future damage.

Argentina’s Supreme Court ruled yesterday on compliance with its 2008 decision regarding the contamination of the Riachuelo.

The ruling to follow up reaffirmed what the Court had said eight years ago: the quality of life of the river basin’s inhabitants must be improved, the environment rebuilt – water, air and soil – and safeguarded against future damage. Yesterday the Court urged ACUMAR, the authority in charge of managing the river basin, to adopt measures to resolve pending problems, such as water and air quality, dumpsites, the cleanup of shorelines, the relocation of families located in the towline path, the urbanization of slums and precarious settlements, the extension of water and sewerage networks, oversight of industrial dumping and health policies for inhabitants in the area. Moreover, it also ordered the preparation of precise compliance indicators and goals in order to assess how the current state of the basin is modified over time.

To implement the decision to follow up, ACUMAR must incorporate a human rights perspective that clearly identifies the economic, social and environmental rights that are being violated and ensure adequate and effective forms of participation for people living in the river basin. This will make it possible to, first, reformulate policies and actions, indicators and the compliance timeline for goals from a comprehensive, integrative standpoint, and second, set priorities. As we said in the document we submitted to the Court at the last hearing: “This involves coordinating a broad set of principles and action criteria in which human wellbeing is not considered a complementary, subordinate component to economic growth, but is instead prioritized and placed at the top of the hierarchy as the central component of that set. Otherwise, the plan will continue to be – as the Comprehensive Plan for Environmental Remediation (PISA in Spanish) has been so far – an inefficient tool for environmental rebuilding and the integration of the different social sectors.”

From this perspective, the problems surrounding the river basin should be interpreted as the result of complex and interrelated socio-territorial processes that cannot be addressed through disconnected actions. Two examples: 1) Fulfillment of the right to water cannot be effectively met without interrelating policies of public investment in utilities, territorial management, provision of decent housing and preservation of natural spaces that fulfill vital ecological services. 2) ACUMAR has always used sanitation measures to resolve the problem of dumpsites, but without addressing the actors involved or the underlying socioeconomic causes, and is consequently always cleaning up the latest dumpsite and not preventing new ones from forming.

Understanding these problems as a set of rights violations requires coordinated efforts to attack the processes that damage the river basin. This involves a qualitative change in how ACUMAR’s policies are carried out. To accomplish this, the institution must be made a true authority capable of coordinating the complex relationship between 14 municipalities, the provincial government, the country’s capital city and the multiple national government organizations involved. This requires remaking the political agreements across jurisdictions to facilitate coordination of the different procedures deployed today without any rationale to meet the objectives of the court decision and the orders issued yesterday in the follow-up ruling.