The pictures below show a sparse shanty town in Dock Sud, Avellaneda, a municipality just south of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in August 2006. The “water” course is Riachuelo, the channelized lower stretches of Matanza River, and a serious contender for the most polluted river on the planet.


Feral dogs, precarious houses and dumping sites for demolition rubble are visible. Less obvious are the heavy pollution of the river, the inhuman living conditions of the people and their unstable and often precarious income sources. Health problems due to pollution, criminality and low education levels are rampant. Note that the reason some trees do not have leaves in the pictures is not pollution, but the southern winter.

The river used to be a recreational space until the early 1930’s (told directly by one of my grandmothers), when people sought in its waters relief from the hot summers. By the 1940’s the river was already smelling bad from the chemical wastes, poured directly without treatment, from leather and other industries settled along its banks. I have never seen the river in other any state than this, and recall seeing bubbles coming up to the viscous black surface as early as the early 1980’s. I spent a great deal of the 1990’s commuting on trains passing over bridges above its waters and daydreaming on how the river could be cleaned and the area restored. The situation has not improved and today is at least as bad as ever. Plans to clean the river and restore its surroundings have been around, on and off, for over 30 years, but never has anything substantial been achieved.

I bring up this example as one of the clearest cases I know of catastrophic failure of all aspects of the triple bottom line: a sane natural environment, in sane economy, with a sane social environment. Decades of carelessness, low prioritization, incompetence and corruption have made their job in Riachuelo. The results are obvious. It seems that it is about time to change the strategy.

NOTE: originally published in my old blog “Tales of a Finite Planet”, on 2014-05-22