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Argentina: Human rights obligations and civil society commitments

With 92% of the population being urban, most of the population has access to improved water and sanitation facilities in Argentina, but only half of it is connected to the wastewater collecting system and treatment and only ca. 10% of collected sewage is treated before being discharged.

The highest concentration of urban poor in Argentina can be found in the Matanza-Riachuelo River basin (home to 6.1 million inhabitants) located in Buenos Aires Province. With ca. only 5% of the Buenos Aires City’s wastewater being treated, this river basin is one of the 30 most polluted in the world by urban domestic wastewater and by the untreated effluents from several thousand industries (slaughterhouses, tanneries and metal-based industries).

River clean-up was initiated after a group of citizens used Constitutional Article 41 ont he right to a healthy environment to bring the case to the High Court of Argentina in 2004. Based on the results of several reports prepared by the National Ombudsman (head of the National Human Rights Institution), a Supreme Court Ruling in 2006 requested the government authorities and the private companies to develop a clean-up plan for the river basin. In 2008, the Supreme Court gave a historic ruling knows as “the Mendoza ruling”, requiring the three governmental levels to restore and prevent further deterioration of the river basin.

The clean-up plan included seven components: Providing public information, controlling industrial pollution, closing unsanitary solid waste dumps, constructing water supply, drainage and sewerage networks, improving the river banks, addressing the environmental public health crisis and enforcing and monitoring the implementation of the Court ruling. The 2008 ruling also created and interjurisdictional basin authority (ACUMAR) to implement the clean-up plan. Despite significant progresses (e.g. increased number of: Environmental inspectors and pollution monitoring stations, water treatment plants and sewage-treatment plants), efforts and resources are still needed to strengthen the Basin Authority’s inter-jurisdictional power, to improve sewerage services, support the reduction of industrial discharges and improve decision-making for sustainable land-use and drainage planning.