Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas
Photo Essay

A Year of Change on the Paraná River

Islanders in Argentina’s Paraná Delta fight to keep local traditions alive amid environmental and public health emergencies.

February 2, 2021
Reading Time: 4 minutes

This article is adapted from AQ’s special report on transnational organized crime.

The Paraná is one of the longest rivers on the planet, running 3,000 miles through Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina until its delta, a rich and delicate ecosystem. The delta region was already suffering from drought and deforestation, and over the last eight months forest fires have destroyed more than 1,500 square miles of wetlands, an area equivalent to 15 times the size of Buenos Aires. While confronting the dual disaster of an environmental emergency and the spread of covid-19, islanders in Argentina’s Paraná Delta try to keep their focus on local traditions.

Droughts in the delta threaten to cut off island communities, making them more vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19. This pond is on the verge of drying up completely, preventing locals from accessing waterways to travel to the city to get food and medicine. 

The life of a fisherman is hard. There is an ecological disaster, and as if that weren’t enough, the government banned river travel to avoid spreading COVID-19. If they catch me fishing, they take away what I caught and my fishing net.”
–Turco Díaz

Artisanal fisherman Turco Díaz (55) teaches his trade to grandson Lázaro (7), who was born on the islands of the Paraná Delta. Lázaro’s routine has changed due to the pandemic. His school canceled classes, so now he spends his days learning his grandfather’s trade. Everyday life has become a school for him.
According to old navigation charts, one night in 1943 an Argentine oil tanker rammed a barge carrying wheat along the Paraná River en route to the port of Buenos Aires. The barge sank, but the crew was rescued in time. This almost forgotten accident ended up creating Mast Island. Sediments from the river accumulated on top of the sunken tanker and built up over the years. Mast Island continues to grow and change, and has become a refuge for biodiversity and life in the Paraná River.
A satellite image from the European Space Agency (left) shows the Paraná Delta wetlands in 2019. Satellites captured an image of the same area in 2020 (right), showing the destruction wrought by forest fires.

“On the island the main problem is falling river levels. This cuts off access to people who live in remote areas, and they can’t travel by canoe to buy food or medicine.”
–Fabian Ros

After suffering an accident at the factory where he worked, Fabian Ros (53) decided to leave that life behind and moved to the islands of the Paraná Delta. He collects wood from fallen trees, turning them into beautiful decorative pieces. Everyone knows him as “El Flaco.”

Mother and daughter Patricia Godoy (86) and Tiana Gómez (46) were both born in the islands of the Paraná Delta and are some of the few women in the area who tend livestock. They raise and tame wild horses, keeping this tradition and knowledge alive. 

“We flew by helicopter across the approximately 7,300-square-mile Paraná Delta, attending to people who never received health care before, and in some cases hadn’t even seen other people in a long time”.
–Dr. Remilly Molini

Remilly Molini (63) has been living and working as a doctor on the islands of the Paraná Delta for more than 30 years. He makes regular trips to Rosario, where he is head of the local emergency medical service. Since the pandemic hit, he decided to work full-time on the islands. In March, he carried out a health care campaign across the Paraná Delta, providing medical care to local families.

Tags: Argentina, Parana, Photo Essay
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