David Boyd, the United Nations (UN) envoy for human rights and the environment, warned that Chile is facing a frightening and interconnected environmental crisis that is violating the rights of millions of people at the industrial complex known as the Chilean Chernobyl.
”I smelled the toxic fumes of industry in (the industrial complex) Ventanas and felt them in my throat. I heard the testimony of mothers, with tears in their eyes, who were afraid to send their children to school, said Boyd.
The UN representative gave a description of the Ventanas industrial complex, located on the central Chilean coast, in the towns of Puchuncaví and Quinteros, where more than 15 industrial facilities are located, including oil refineries, petrochemical plants, coal-fired plants, gas terminals, and copper smelters.
According to Boyd, people in the area suffer from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, and there are high levels of infant mortality, unacceptable levels of cancer risk in children, and a lower life expectancy.
Boyd also denounced the water shortages suffered by many rural residents and the deadly air pollution that mainly affects the country's capital, Santiago.
My conversations with more than 100 people with concerns from all regions of Chile and from all sectors of society revealed flagrant violations over the years of their right to live in a clean, healthy, and sustainable environment. In many cases, these violations persisted for decades, Boyd warned.
In addition to Ventana, there are four other areas of high environmental pollution: Tocopilla, Mejillones, and Huasco, in the north, and Coronel, in the south of the country.
In Boyd's view, Chile faces an overwhelming series of interconnected environmental crises.
These crises, which have been ongoing for many years, include: deeply disturbing affected areas where marginalized and vulnerable communities suffer exposure to toxic substances and environmental degradation, water scarcity as many rural residents lack access to safe and sufficient water, and deadly air pollution, Boyd said in a statement following a 10-day visit to Chile.
The special rapporteur has reported that Chile is also suffering major problems due to the global climate crisis, including droughts, desertification, devastating forest fires, deadly heat waves, rising sea levels, coastal erosion, and extreme weather events.
Chile must respond to the environmental crisis by implementing urgent actions to ensure universal access to clean water, clean air, and non-toxic environments for all, he explained.
It is completely unacceptable that children and young people in some communities are growing up without a reliable supply of water in homes or schools and are exposed to toxic chemicals that threaten their health, he added.
I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Chile is number one globally in the proportion of electricity produced by solar energy (...) and Chile's recent Framework Law on Climate Change is very strong, he also pointed out.
He also praised the closure of eight coal-fired power plants and the imminent closure of the state-owned Ventanas smelter as necessary measures to alleviate extreme pollution in the most affected areas and combat the climate crisis.
The Government has the ambitious goal of achieving a just socio-ecological transition, a goal that is vitally needed in a country facing enormous environmental challenges and systemic inequality, Boyd explained. Human Rights must be at the heart of this effort. This is a legal obligation, not an option.”
During his visit, the UN expert toured the northern, central, and southern regions, visiting Quintero-Puchuncavi, Calama, the Salar de Atacama, and Puerto Montt, in addition to Santiago. He met with national and local government officials, judges, prosecutors, the National Human Rights Institution, members of UN agencies, companies, and scholars.