The Glacier National Park of Santiago and green inequity

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Photo: Camilo NovoaPhoto: Camilo Novoa
 
 
By Christian Moscoso
Translation by Patrick Nixon
 
Over the past three decades there has been a dramatic increase in the amount of research exploring the impact of nature on human health and wellbeing. With rising rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and anxiety, there has been a growing interest in better understanding the role that protected areas and nature can play in combating these chronic conditions. 
 
One of the latest research papers to draw attention to this topic in the global press was conducted by the University of Exeter and published in June 2019. It found that people who spend at least 120 minutes a week in contact with nature have better health and well-being than those who do not.
 
The study was funded by the UK's National Institute for Health Research and is based on data collected from around 20,000 people. While it was already a well-known fact that spending time in nature has benefits for health, the researchers wanted to know exactly how much time was needed to achieve these benefits.
 
The substantial increase in the amount of evidence that links good health and nature provides a strong case for recognizing protected areas as essential for individual and community health. This has led several countries in the developed world to join the international "Healthy Parks Healthy People" movement that seeks to help communities around the world become aware of the health and wellness benefits of spending time in contact with nature.
 
 
Glacier Juncal south. Photo: Camila OyarzunGlacier Juncal south. Photo: Camila Oyarzun
 
 
With its more than eight million inhabitants, the Metropolitan Region of Santiago is home to about 42% of Chile's population, which is distributed over 47 municipalities. Of the total, only 15% (seven of its municipalities) meet the minimum recommended standards of green areas per number of inhabitants.
 
Located in the Santiago foothills, San José de Maipo, with its almost 4mts2/inhabitant, is one of the 85% of municipalities that have a deficit of green areas. This is the same municipality where a few weeks ago former President Sebastian Piñera announced the creation of the Glacier National Park, a new protected area of 75,000 hectares located in the Olivares and Colorado river valleys.
 
The announcement was welcomed with mixed enthusiasm by #QueremosParque (#WewantaPark), a citizen campaign that has been waged by the Acceso PanAm organization, Fundación Plantae and ONG Regenera since the beginning of 2019 and which has become one of the most important Chilean environmental struggles in recent times with more than 200,000 signatures on its website.
 
While we welcome the fact that important water reserves in the upper areas of these valleys in the form of snowpacks and glaciers have finally been protected, it is alarming to know that the 66,886 hectares of state-owned property that lies below 3,600 meters above sea level has been left unprotected, with only the promise of including it as part of a new national park to be created in the future.
 
Nearly 50% of this land that belongs to the Chilean people can be used for mining and intensive cattle ranching, which puts at risk the very thing that the creation of a national park is intended to protect: the water that irrigates and supplies 56% of the Metropolitan Region.
 
 
Photo: Ximena SalazarPhoto: Ximena Salazar
 
 
Green inequity is another example of inequality in Chile, where access to nature has been transformed into a commodity available to a few through tourism. The Glacier National Park of Santiago perpetuates this inequality of access, squandering a tremendous opportunity to bring the population of the Metropolitan Region closer to nature and taking advantage of all the benefits for health and well-being that this entails.
 
We are convinced that we are an integral part of nature and that we not only have the right to live in a healthy environment but also to have a connection with nature. This is fundamentally important for the future conservation of nature and the protection of our mountains. Acceso PanAm calls on the new authorities to rectify this half-hearted decision to create a new national park and to promptly create a working group that includes the communities and organizations that seek to not only protect the remaining state properties of the Metropolitan Region but also to improve the quality of life for the residents of San José de Maipo and Santiago as well as guarantee their access to nature and a democratic right to access the mountains.
 
The author, Christian Moscoso, is an economist, and Chile regional director for Acceso Panam.