Environment in Argentina Essay

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With a land area of 2,780,092 square kilometers, Argentina is the second largest country of South America with an estimated population in 2006 of 40 million people. Two main units constitute the physical environment: the Andes in the west, and the much older and eroded Eastern massifs, now reduced to plains. The Andean region can be divided into two mountain ranges. The northern Andes, where the highest elevations are to be found (including the highest peak in the western hemisphere, Aconcagua, at 6,959 meters), are characterized by an arid climate and sparse herbaceous vegetation. The southern Andes, with smaller heights but more rainfall, offer a landscape that is a mosaic of forests, lakes, and glaciers. Eastern Argentina is formed mostly by undulating plains replenished by the alluvial materials of the large Parana and Paraguay rivers in the so-called Mesopotamia region of the north, and the endless grassy plains of El Chaco and La Pampa toward the center and the south. The fluvial network is dominated by the large Rio de la Plata in the north (formed by the Parana and the Uruguay rivers), the drainage basin of which exceeds 3.1 million square kilometers.

The recent environmental challenges faced by Argentina are closely related to the country’s path since the early 1990s of specializing in the production of raw commodities (especially agricultural and mining products) for the growing demand of the global markets. The expansion of the agricultural frontier (wheat, maize, and increasingly, soybeans, to provide for European and Asian demand) toward the west, as well as the detriment of extensive grazing, has exacerbated traditional problems of soil erosion (about 25 million hectares of cropland and pastures were affected to some degree at the end of the 1990s) and desertification, as well as creating new problems, such as the proliferation of pesticides (between 1992 and 1996, sales of pesticides went from $400 million to almost $800 million). Moreover, Argentina is second in the world (after the United States) in the use of genetically modified crops.

Mining is rapidly expanding in the foothills of the Andean region. The exploitation of copper and gold ores has been facilitated by the substantial incentives given by the Argentine government to foreign companies (especially American, British, Spanish, and French). In 1993, the sector was freed from regulatory hurdles, and exports rose from $200 million in 1996 to $1.2 billion in 2004. Many local communities, however, have complained about the increasing levels of cyanide and other heavy metals found in the streams close to gold and silver operations.

Potential pollution by raw commodity production is also the source of international conflict. In 2006, Argentina requested the intervention of the International Court of The Hague to halt the construction of two polluting pulp and paper factories on the Uruguayan side of the fluvial border between the two countries.

Heavy flooding, especially of the northern rivers, has become a recurrent problem in the last decades of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Uncontrolled urbanization of flood-prone land (above all by poor populations) has contributed to an increased death toll from flooding in the Buenos Aires area and in other cities in the same time period. Some evidence indicates that the flooding may be due to an increase in precipitation and river flows (including a 30 to 40 percent increase in the Parana and Uruguay Rivers) during the period 1950-2000. Furthermore, the water levels of the Rio de la Plata rose about 17 centimeters during the 20th century. For example, in May 2003, flooding by the Salado River resulted in 900 dead or missing and forced the evacuation of 36,000 in the city of Santa Fe. In 2005, the World Bank approved a substantial credit to finance the construction of flood control works in the capital.

Argentina is home to the oldest protected area in South America (1903) and also the oldest National Park Service (1932). In 2003, about 6.3 percent of the total area of the country was held under some kind of protection. The country has 11 Ramsar sites (wetlands of international importance designated under the Ramsar Convention) and 10 Biosphere Reserves, including spectacular areas such as the Perito Moreno Glacier in the south. Although not forced to do so by the Kyoto Protocol, Argentina has signed a voluntary program to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change.


  • James Brennan, Region and Nation: Politics, Economy, and Society in Twentieth-Century Argentina (Palgrave Macmillan, 2000).

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