What’s a Chaco?

Posted on September 28, 2010

I keep referring to this “Chaco” place but I have yet to properly introduce you to it.  The “Gran Chaco” is an ecoregion located in the heart of South America that extends into Paraguay, Argentina, Bolivia, and Brazil.  It’s a semi-arid alluvial plain, meaning it’s hot, dry, and flat.  Less than 400mm of rain falls there every year.  It makes up about 60% of Paraguay’s land area, but less than 10% of the population lives there.

The Chaco is a biodiversity hotspot for flora and fauna, hosting 3,400 plant species, 500 bird species, 150 mammal species, 120 reptile species, and 100 amphibian species (see the Nature Conservancy webpage for more information).  It also represents a lot of cultural diversity, with inhabitants from several indigenous groups (representing 5 linguistic families) and Mennonite colonists.

There’s more information on the Gran Chaco on Wikipedia.

I’m going to be working in the area referred to as the “Central Chaco”.  I was hoping to make it out to my study communities this week, but something big is going on in the Chaco starting tomorrow:

The TransChaco Rally!!

After soccer (football), the TransChaco Rally is the Paraguayan sport of choice.  Once a year a whole bunch of people go up to the Chaco and race perfectly good vehicles around in all the dust and dirt and ruin them for glory (I don’t really understand the rules).  This is basically what goes on:

Here’s another view from inside one of the cars:

And here’s the official website for the event.

The doctors who will be accompanying me out to the study communities say that it is unsafe to head out while the Rally is on (lots of traffic in an area with only one paved road, lots of alcohol), so we’re planning to head out next week.

In the context of global health, I caught this news article about the Rally and thought I’d share the first paragraph with you:

Ante la realización de la XXXVII Edición del Transchaco Rally 2010, la Dirección General de Vigilancia de la Salud, del Ministerio de Salud Pública y Bienestar Social (MSPyBS), insta a las personas que van participar del evento, a tener en cuenta varias recomendaciones para preservar la salud ante enfermedades que son frecuentes en el Chaco Paraguayo como el Hantavirus, Chagas y el Cólera, y las transmitidas por alimentos en mal estado de conservación, de forma a impedir situaciones que puedan ocasionar daño a la salud y al medio ambiente.

Translation: Prior to the start of the TransChaco Rally 2010 Edition XXXVII, the Directorate General of Health Surveillance, of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Wellbeing (MSPyBS), urges people who are attending the event to consider several recommendations to protect their health against diseases that are prevalent in the Paraguayan Chaco such as Hantavirus, Chagas disease, and Cholera, and foodborne illnesses so as to prevent situations that can cause damage to health and the environment.

The article goes on to describe how one can avoid foodborne illnesses, but says nothing more about the others…