Santiago, Oct 21, 2019 (AFP) - Chile, reeling from its worst social unrest in decades, has since the 1990s been considered a Latin American hub of political stability and economic growth after 17 years of dictatorship. Here is some background.
- From dictatorship to democracy - In 1973 General Augusto Pinochet toppled Socialist President Salvador Allende in a military coup. Allende committed suicide in the presidential palace as troops closed in. Pinochet imposed a right-wing dictatorship that lasted for 17 years, during which at least 3,200 people were killed or disappeared as a result of political repression. Around 38,000 were tortured. In 1988 he lost a plebiscite on remaining in power and handed over to democratically elected Patricio Aylwin in 1990, remaining head of the armed forces until 1998. Pinochet died in 2006 without standing trial for atrocities under his regime. In 2006 Socialist Michelle Bachelet became Chile's first female president. Re-elected in 2013, she was barred constitutionally from standing again immediately and appointed UN right commissioner in 2018. The 2017 elections were won by conservative billionaire Sebastian Pinera, who had already been president in 2010-2014.
- Model economy - Pinochet applied neo-liberal free-market methods, privatising healthcare, education and pensions. Chile turned to exports and in the 1980s became the preferred Latin American host for foreign investors. With this economic model still largely in place, growth reached a strong 4% in 2018. The country of 18 million people also has the highest per capita income of Latin America at $20,000. GDP, however, fell to 1.8% in the first half of 2019 -- due to a challenging external context, adverse climatic conditions and a delay in reforms -- and is expected at 2.5 percent for the year. Despite slashing poverty from 30% in 2000 to 8.6% in 2019, the country has high social inequalities including in healthcare, education and pensions. It is the world's biggest producer of copper, with lithium, timber, fisheries, gold, silver, avocados and oil also driving exports.
- Paedophile priests scandal - The staunchly Roman Catholic country has been rocked by allegations of sexual abuse within the church going back decades. In May 2018 Pope Francis summoned all 34 Chilean bishops to Rome over the crisis and all tendered their resignations, although only a handful have been accepted. Since 2000 about 80 priests have been reported to authorities in Chile for alleged sexual abuse, including of children and adolescents. Prosecutors said in August 2018 they were investigating 158 members of the church, both priests and lay people. Ultra-conservative Chile allowed divorce only from 2004 and legalised abortion in certain cases in 2017.
- World's most seismic - Bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Andes mountain range to the east, long and narrow Chile is the world's most seismic country. In 1960 it was struck by the most powerful earthquake ever registered which measured 9.5 and struck at Valdivia. More than 5,700 people were killed. In 2010 a 8.8-magnitude quake in the south and centre unleashed a tsunami that swept away entire villages, leaving around 520 people dead.
- Astronomy heaven - Benefitting from a totally clear sky for most of the year, northern Chile is home to some of the world's most powerful telescopes. The construction of the planet's biggest telescope was launched in May 2017 in the Atacama desert by ESO, the European Organisation for Astronomical Research in the Southern Hemisphere.
Date: Sat, 5 Oct 2019 03:30:17 +0200 (METDST) By Giovanna FLEITAS
Petorca, Chile, Oct 5, 2019 (AFP) - For Erick Hurtado, the worst thing about the drought that has devastated his family farm in Chile is the dead animals. "Going out and seeing the animals dead on the ground is so horrible," Hurtado says as he gazes across the dusty paddocks of his farm in Petorca, near the coastal city of Valparaiso.
Farmers are counting the cost of one of the driest austral winters in six decades, which has destroyed crops and left tens of thousands of farm animals dead in the fields of central Chile. Hurtado's farm, owned by his grandfather, has lost half its 60 head of cattle. So far, 106,000 animals have died due to lack of water and fodder, mostly goats, cattle and sheep, according to the agriculture ministry. President Sebastian Pinera, who last month announced a $5 billion plan to improve water distribution, this week set up a crisis group of government agencies to tackle the water crisis, which he said had become "more extensive and more intense."
In Colina, north of the capital Santiago, the drought has been hard on small farmers. Scrawny cattle pick at sprigs of strawy grass on pastures that have turned to dust. Cows, goats and horses roam hungry on hills have turned to a dry muddy brown. "The drought has been disastrous for us," said Sandra Aguilar. Her family owned about a hundred head of cattle. Today, only half survive thanks to a trickle of water provided by a neighbor who still has some reserves. "The situation is complicated," said Javier Maldonado, governor of the province of Chacabuco, where several agricultural areas have been hit particularly hard by the drought. "We have to be realistic, climate change is here to stay," he said.
- Water shortages - Dominga Mondaca points out the deep fissures that run through the garden behind her house in the village of La Ligua near Valparaiso. The garden used to be full of strawberries and citrus trees; now it's cracked earth. "We have had many years with little water. But the last year, it didn't rain at all," said the 73-year-old, one of more than 600,000 people the government is supplying by tanker trucks as part of emergency measures. She says she has had to give up raising chickens, in order to keep what little water she and her husband receive for their own consumption, washing and cleaning. Whatever is left, she uses to sprinkle on herbs in a small kitchen garden. The agriculture ministry says 37,000 family farms need assistance in the central Chile.
- Thirsty avocados? - In Petorca, some rivers have run dry, and the landscape has been left parched, but lush avocado and citrus plantations are nevertheless thriving. Locals in Petorca say the real, long-term problem is the mismanagement of water resources. "There is an excess of monoculture plantations that consume all the water," said Diego Soto of the Movement for the Defense of Access to Water, Land and Environmental Protection (MODATIMA) told AFP. Avocados need a lot of water to grow, said Soto. "An avocado tree needs 600 liters of water per week, whereas humans consume 50 liters a day, or 350 liters a week," he said. Producers refute these figures and say the real problem is a lack of infrastructure to store water, both above and below ground. "The avocado is not a crop that needs more water," insisted Francisco Contardo, chairman of the local producers' committee. Avocados are a key export for Chile, mostly to the US and China, but drought has reduced exports by 25 percent.
- Less snow - For many though, the changes being wrought by climate change are overwhelmingly obvious. Snow in the highlands of central Chile was relatively scarce this year. Scientists predict an average decrease of between five and 10 percent snowfall every 10 years in almost the entire Andes mountains, one of the country's main sources of water. "The central zone of Chile is highly dependent on the summer melt season, its snow and glaciers, which means that if the snow cover is reduced, there is also a reduction in the availability of water resources," said Paul Cordero, climate change expert at the University of Santiago. Weak snowfall forced the country's main ski resorts to use artificial snow machines much earlier and more often this season than in previous years. "Chile has been living as if it were a country with an abundance of water," said Pinera. "Climate change and global warming have changed this situation probably forever."
Date: Sun, 29 Sep 2019 19:26:18 +0200 (METDST)
Santiago, Sept 29, 2019 (AFP) - A 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck in the Pacific off the coast of Chile on Sunday, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) said. "There is a low likelihood of casualties and damage," the USGS said of the earthquake, which it earlier reported as a magnitude 7.2, and which occurred 41 miles (66 kilometres) west-southwest of Constitucion, Chile. Chile's National Seismological Center (CSN) put the quake at 6.6 magnitude.
Despite the tremor's strength, there were no reports of injuries, impacts to basic services or damage to infrastructure, according to Chile's National Emergency Office (ONEMI). There were also no tsunami warnings, advisories, watches or threats in the wake of the earthquake, according to the US Tsunami Warning System. Chile is one of the world's most earthquake-prone countries. The 1960 Valdivia earthquake in Chile was, at 9.5, the strongest ever recorded on the magnitude scale, according to the USGS. Chile lies on the Ring of Fire -- an arc of fault lines that circles the Pacific Basin and is prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.
Date: Fri, 16 Aug 2019 03:38:45 +0200 (METDST) By Paulina ABRAMOVICH
Santiago, Aug 16, 2019 (AFP) - Once deep in powder this time of year, Chile's ski stations are fighting the ravages of climate change and pollution that have brought less and less snow to the central Andes. Just a few decades ago, the Andes mountain range could be buried under four meters of snow, forcing the closure of access roads and requiring the use of tractors to get around.
But this year, it's snowed only three times in the Chilean Andes, and never more than 30 centimetres. It's not just Chile affected, but the whole of the Andes where the area of snow cover in the central zone has diminished by five to 10 percent each decade, according to Raul Cordero, an academic at the University of Santiago. "But it's not just snow cover that's decreasing, the thickness of the snow cover is also reducing," he said. "So when we talk about a decrease of the cover of five to 10 percent, this probably signifies a much greater reduction in the volume of available snow over the Andes."
Rising temperatures mean the snow line -- above which snow never melts all year round -- keeps creeping upwards. The snow melt is even more pronounced in the central zone due to pollution from the Chilean capital, one of the most contaminated urban areas in the region. A recent study led by Cordero found that soot, or black carbon, from Santiago was settling in the Andes and accelerating the snow melt. As it's black, it absorbs more solar radiation and heats up quicker. "When this pollution is over the cities it poisons people and when the wind blows, this pollution goes and is deposited on the mountains and contributes to the snow melt," said Cordero.
- Essential snow cannons - The upshot is that Chile's ski stations have had a difficult season. But thanks to the snow cannons, the erection of fences and a tailored piste management policy, the resorts have managed to stay open throughout a winter in which there has been almost no snow. "All the ski centers in the central zone are without natural snow. However, thanks to the fabrication of snow we've been able to keep open pistes that without this fabrication would not have been able to stay open," Fernando Montenegro, the operations director at Andacor, which operates the El Colorado and Parque Farellones ski stations, told AFP.
El Colorado is 50 kilometers from Santiago and sits at 2,800-meters. It pumps out snow whenever the conditions allow it. Low temperatures and high humidity is what's needed for the snow cannons to chug into gear and churn out snowflakes from water. This technology has been around since 1994, but it's never before been in use as much as it is now -- and even then the ski station is only operating at 70 percent capacity. But even if the situation gets worse, the ski stations will manage, according to Montenegro. "There's no risk. However, we need to manage the snow and manage the water in the mountain range in a good way." El Colorado has already invested almost $4 million in buying snow cannons and hopes to increase that to $10 million over the coming years.
- 'Variety so important' - Last weekend, some 7,000 people descended on El Colorado where ski and snowboard national teams come to train -- although, they're not necessarily happy. "If there's not enough snow, there's not as many hills. We don't get the variety, we don't get steepness, (or) different slopes: it's so important for us to have that variety," Megan Farrell, a member of the Canadian snowboard team, told AFP. Amateur skiers also noticed the difference from previous years. "You can see that the snow is harder. It's not very deep, there are a lot of stones and snow made by the cannons, which makes it feel like you're skiing on a different type of snow," said Chilean Rado Milosevic, 24.
Date: Thu 28 Mar 2019
Source: Cronica Digital [in Spanish, trans. ProMED Mod.TY, edited]
Health authorities in Chile today [28 Mar 2019] confirmed the detection in the north of the country of _Aedes aegypti_, the vector of dangerous diseases such as dengue, Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever [viruses].
The secretariat of the Ministry of Health in the northern Tarapaca region states that on 21 Mar , a specimen of the mosquito was captured in a ovaposition trap for monitoring the presence of these insects in a women's penitentiary in Iquique city.
According to press reports from this region, the presence of larvae of the mosquito was confirmed by the Public Health Institute, although up to now, no locally acquired clinical cases of these _Aedes aegypti_-transmitted diseases have been reported.
The Tarapaca Secretary of Health, Manuel Fernandez, stated that 193 household visits have been made in the area of detection as part of preventive efforts. The official indicated that the mosquito is not able to transmit the indicated diseases without having previously had contact [bitten] with a person infected by any of these viruses. He also called on the public to collaborate with measures against this vector by opening the doors of their houses to the teams that visit to view hygienic conditions and to maximize the recommended measures with that objective.
According to health authorities, Chile, which borders Peru, Bolivia and Argentina [all of which have the mosquito and these viruses], has natural protection with the Andes mountain chain for the length of the country and extensive deserts in the north that make it difficult, but not impossible, for the mosquito to migrate [into the country]. In this respect, he advised that the effects of climate change could be favourable for the arrival of the mosquito and facilitate its reproduction due to the increase of temperature and humidity in some areas.
To date, no cases of dengue or Zika have been reported in the country except for imported ones.
[Chile has been fortunate in having escaped locally transmitted cases of these viruses due to the absence of _Aedes aegypti_ (except for far distant Easter Island, which has had cases of dengue and Zika virus infections). That situation of geographic and ecological isolation may now be changing with the discovery of a breeding population of this mosquito in the far north of the country. One hopes that this early detection and a timely surveillance effort will permit the mosquito's elimination. Continued surveillance will be critical, since this mosquito is famous for its ability to be moved around by human activity. - ProMED Mod.TY]