It's 2pm in southern Paraguay, but it very much feels like 6pm and nearing dusk anywhere else. The weather forecast for the last week: SMOKE. The weather forecast today: ACID RAIN. The sky outside it eerily orange, the rain awkwardly black. This is my first lesson (of what will likely be many) in Paraguay's struggle with pollution.
For the last week now, throughout the country, Paraguay has been covered in a dusty, smokey haze. On travel to my site from Asuncion, there was no stretch of land without a visible cloudy mixture hanging in the air. Often, especially once south of Villarrica, the culprit fires could be seen off in the distance.
Why? Two reasons:
1) Lack of Waste Management Systems- Most towns in Paraguay do not have organized waste disposal sites if any waste management system at all. Thus, once a family has collected a sufficient amount of trash to warrant action, they will burn the trash right in their back yards or out in the street- food waste, paper, plastic, etc. As one might imagine, the toxins released in such burns are terrible for the environment as well as local health. When I first arrived in Paraguay, I became ill with respiratory infections almost any time I walked by one of these burning trash heaps. Now, after several weeks without rain, all the of smoke is simply hanging in the air- heavy and unmoving.
2) Deforestation- Paraguay was once home to a beautiful, tropical forest. However, over the last several decades the trees have been coming down leaving vast, barren stretches of land. Online reports say that Paraguay has now lost 90% of its forests in the last 50 years. In order to clean and maintain the land, campesinos have taken to burning the fields. Sometimes these burns can get a bit out of control, as has been the case in the last week. Without an infrastructure to stop the burns, lack of bomberos, agua, etc. there is little to stop the spread and subsequent pollution.
The result: the recent crazy weather.
What can we do about it? Well, this is the Peace Corps- so I'll keep you updated!