Half a million sheep have already died in Argentine Patagonia as a result of the eruption of the Chilean volcano Puyehe, which has covered most fields in the province of Chubut with a film made of a mix of mineral ash.
The sheep die unable to find food and when they can the volcanic ash mix turns into a toxic grind for the animal.
“We estimate over half a million sheep have been lost because of the ashes which continue to be spewed by the volcano” said Ernesto Siguero president of the Chubut Rural Society.
Ashes also weigh on the sheep’s wool making it harder to move around with the extra burden and ‘once they sit it’s hard for them to stand up’. Likewise the continued ash in the air harms livestock’s sight.
But people living in the area are also suffering the consequences of the ashes in their daily lives. The constant ash blocks chimneys, gets into the water pipes, covers with dust light bulbs and when it’s windy, drivers guide themselves by the culverts because of the almost zero visibility.
In some areas the volcanic ash has accumulated almost a metre high making it even difficult for the 4 by 4 to vehicles to move around.
But even more damaging is in those areas populated mostly by small farmers, on average 300 sheep: they have lost all chances of recovering unless they receive outside support, points out Siguero.
The Argentina government has distributed food stamps in some areas but “we also need to save the livestock left” says Siguero.
President Cristina Fernandez was last week in Chubut to open Argentina’s largest wind power farm and was given a petition letter by neighbours from rural areas.
“We want you to know that the ash problem in Chubut is not a feeling. The whole Chubut plateau is covered with ash forcing farmers to advance shearing, but it’s kind of complicated, shearing scissors get stuck with the ash and wool is virtually worthless”.