SANTIAGO – Ever since the coronavirus arrived in Chile, the government has supplied warnings about public health and safety. Frequent handwashing is among the most recommended measures. But according to Greenpeace, hundreds of thousands of Chileans live in such dire conditions that this is not an option.
Greenpeace on Tuesday warned authorities that because of the extensive drought that has hit several regions, large parts of Chile’s population are unable to follow a simple health measure such as washing their hands regularly.
Around 350,000 Chileans are without water and thus can’t act according to protection measures recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). Matías Asun, head of Greenpeace Chile, warned this risk group is in a situation of “sanitary defenselessness.”
According to CNN Chile, the NGO said President Sebastián Piñera should take “the necessary measures to level the field, so that all Chileans can protect themselves on equal terms before this pandemic advances.”
Several regions of Chile are suffering from what scientists call “a mega-drought.” Governors have declared agricultural emergencies, while rivers dry up and water reservoirs are at historic lows.
According to the meteorological service, the period between 2003 and 2014 was the driest decade in the last 150 years and the warmest ever recorded in the country. While 2018 was already one of the driest years in half a century, the rain that fell during 2019 was half the amount that fell in 2018, with an average rainfall deficit of 75%.
Greenpeace writes that 238 of Chile’s 347 communes are lacking water, as 84.7% of the rural population without drinking water is supplied through wells, rivers, lakes and estuaries. The same wells that are threatened by the drought. “More than 350,000 people who depend on rural water systems are not in conditions to wash their hands accordingly”, Greenpeace writes.
In Coquimbo, Valparaíso, Metropolitan, O’Higgins and Maule regions the drought and lack of water has been worst, especially in the rural areas – and in these regions, hundreds of coronavirus cases have already been confirmed, a report of the Ministry of Health shows.
Editor-In-Chief Boris van der Spek is the founder of Chile Today. He worked in Colombia, Surinam and the Netherlands as reporter and works with international media during major events, like the social crisis, the elections and the Pope’s visit.