As farming intensifies in Argentina, so does deforestation. The resulting environmental damage has led to ever new outbreaks of illnesses.
When disease-carrying insects and rodents proliferate consequent on relentless deforestation, easily the worst affected are the indigenous people, for it is they who are in greater contact with these animals.
Besides they are steeped in poverty and their access to healthcare is nothing much to speak of. A near certain recipe for disaster, but not many seem to care as the indigenous have little voice in the scheme of things, activists point out.
Dengue has broken out in Argentina. In mid-April, the Health Ministry confirmed six deaths as a result of the insect-borne illness and 13,366 confirmed cases.
Medical professionals say environmental damage is to blame for other outbreaks.
In its 2008-2011 Strategic Plan, the National Administration of Laboratories and Health Institutes warned that emergency from hantavirus and leishmaniasis, which are "strongly linked to environmental damage."
Chagas disease continues to affect populations in the northern province of Chaco. According to the Fight against Chagas Disease Association, the health system is failing to detect and treat this illness and eradicate the parasite that causes it, writes Hernán Scandizzo for Latinamerica Press.
Carlos Morales Peña, chief of the Salta branch of the Health Ministry's intercultural relations and health department, says the advancing farming zone has caused outbreaks of rabies and leishmaniasis.
Since February, local media in northeastern Argentina have been reporting cases of leishmaniasis in dogs, mainly in the cities of Corrientes and Misiones.
"Leishmaniasis is expanding, and you can see a lack of adequate health policy for its prevention and control," said Jorge Gorodner, a doctor specializing in infectious diseases at the National University of the Northeast, in the magazine Ciencia y Técnica. Since 2006, four people have died from this disease.
According to the governmental National Statistics and Census Institute, nearly 18 percent of Argentina's population was living in poverty in the first half of 2008.
But the nongovernmental Argentine Institute for the Development of Regional Economies said the figure is more than 31 percent. Poverty levels in the northern provinces are even higher, the organization says: close to 50 percent in Chaco, compared with a government estimate of 35 percent.
The organization says poverty affects between 41 percent and 46 percent of the population in Corrientes, Misiones, Formosa, Santiago del Estero, Jujuy, Salta and Tucuman provinces, all of them in the north.
Northern Argentina has also the highest incidents of child malnutrition and mortality, as well as cases of Chagas and tuberculosis.
In mid-2007, a cold snap in the Chaco killed 22 indigenous Tobas and Wichi, whose health was weakened by a poor diet.
Residents in the Chaco suffer from being displaced by the increased farming. The occupation of indigenous lands for soy production, pushing residents northward, has had serious impacts. Illegal deforestation by loggers has added to the problem, as these communities lose the land on which they once grew their food.
In December 2007, Argentina's Supreme Court ordered the government to provide medical and nutritional support, but others say the situation has not changed. According to a human rights organization, the Nelson Mandela Studies Center, between August 2008 and March 2009, 10 Tobas children under a year old died from hunger-related illnesses in Villa Rio Bermejito, the epicenter of the health and food emergency in Chaco.
The situation is similar in Misiones. "The Guarani communities suffer the damage of a high malnutrition level," said Ángela Sánchez, a bilingual education promoter in the province.
She said by losing their lands, these communities cannot consume forest animals, fruits and other foods.
"Malnourished mothers bring malnourished children into the world," she added.
These forest lands are being cleared out for forest plantations and tourist centers, which consume its rich soil and water resources, said Sánchez.
"The advancing on a native person's habitat definitively means illness," said the Health Ministry's Morales Peña.