The Argentine government is expected to announce Monday an agriculture emergency in several Patagonian areas as a consequence of the Chilean Andes volcanic eruption that has covered most of the territory with a blanket of ash leaving thousands of sheep with no water or pasture.
Argentina’s Agriculture Emergency and Disaster office head Haroldo Lebed said the emergency will be declared to the northeast of the province of Chubut where an estimated 750.000 sheep are suffering the consequences of the volcanic ash.
“This involves a thousand small and medium farmers who are demanding aid from the provincial and federal governments to help clean the water holes and to feed the animals”, said Lebed.
Over the weekend hundreds of farmers met for over seven hours in Trelew with local authorities to demand aid for the dramatic situation which could condemn thousands of sheep. The emergency declaration means direct help from the government and the freezing of all taxes and other fiscal contributions.
“As a first reply we are clearing the access to farms and delivering forage”, said Sergio Pena, Chubut province Livestock Director. “Sheep not only have little to eat but the ash grinds their teeth further complicating the situation”, he added.
Pena also anticipated that the wool yield per sheep will fall and also the quality because of the ash. “With ash deposited on the animals, wool might be heavier but quality will be very poor. Lambing obviously will also be affected”.
Farmers said aid was “more than urgent” because they were only beginning to recover from a four-year drought when they were blanketed with volcanic ash.
“Chubut lost over a million head of sheep in the last four years because of the drought, the ash only further complicates the situation” said Ernesto Siguero, sheep farmer and president of the Chubut Rural Societies’ Federation.
“Losses unfortunately are going to be phenomenal both from an economic and social point of view. The whole of the north of Chubut is de-populating, first with the drought and now with the ash which is anywhere between 15 and 5 centimetres thick”, said Siguero.
The Argentine Meteorological Service forecasts a cloudy Monday with moderate north westerly winds and ashes in suspension.
Regular flights to most of Argentine Patagonia remained cancelled including Trelew, Neuquén, Viedma, Río Gallegos, El Calafate, Ushuaia, Río Grande, Comodoro Rivadavia, Esquel, Santa Rosa, San Rafael. Restrictions for Bahía Blanca and Mar del Plata have been lifted and flights should resume Monday.
The Met office also recommends road traffic to avoid driving at night in the area of Bariloche, La Angostura, Neuquén, El Bolson, Esquel and along Route 3 which runs close to the Atlantic ocean. Because of the ash in suspension, “visibility drops to less that 70% at night and it is strongly recommended to avoid driving at night”.
Highways personnel are working on the repairs of the Cardinal Samoré pass between Argentina and Chile when one of the walls collapsed under the weight of rocks, ash and snow. A sixty metres access of the highway also went down with part of the cliff.
Meanwhile on the Chilean side, people who had been displaced fearing the consequences of the eruption have been allowed to return to their homes.