The Matanza-Riachuelo river basin, which acts as the southern border between Buenos Aires city and province, has regularly featured on the Blacksmith Institute’s ‘Dirty 30’ list as one of the most polluted places in the world.
The contamination has a long history, with the Argentine government first pledging to clean up the basin in 1811. But such efforts have had little effect – or never got off the ground to begin with – despite funding of millions of dollars pledged by the Argentine state and international sources, such as the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank.
In 2008, the Supreme Court officially ordered authorities at a city, provincial, and federal level to work together to clean up the area, and the Authority of the Matanza-Riachuelo Basin (ACUMAR), an autonomous group responsible for the clean up of the area, was created.
Photographer Patricio Murphy took a to the water to see how the clean-up operation is going.
The Buenos Aires Public Spaces boat set out from La Boca and headed upstream
The Riachuelo’s banks are still populated by some precarious settlements. Although many have been resettled, thousands still live in zones considered “inappropriate” for humans.
Some 15,000 industries reside on the banks of the river, around 10% of which are considered “polluters”, disposing of waste directly into the river.
Old rainwater drainage systems are still in use
There are obvious signs of an on-going problem of trashing the river, this picture is where the Cildañez stream merges with the Riachuelo off Villa Soldati’s shore, in the south of Buenos Aires.
Levels of zinc, lead, copper, nickel, and chrome exceed recommended levels, as well as rubbish from drains which run straight into the river.
Part of the clean-up has included the placing of buffers to accumulate the trash, which is then periodically collected by ACUMAR.
Whilst the banks are the responsibility of the city and provincial governments respectively. Here a city government employee works through piles of trash.
The scale of the job at hand is visibly large.
Javier García Elorrio of the City Government’s clean-up operation, shows before and after images of certain areas. He highlights how the banks of the river have been recuperated as public spaces, a task that involved both the resettlement of thousands of residents and the recuperation of land that had been taken over by various industries.
Bags of waste are collected and unloaded on-shore to be transported to landfill.
This green plot has been recovered from a business that had taken the space to illegally park its trucks. NGOs such as FARN have praised the progress, but highlighted that whilst much work has been done to clean up the banks and make the river a more pleasant place to be, a lot of the less visible work of decontaminating the river has yet to be done, and the waters of the Riachuelo remain highly polluted.