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article imageOp-Ed: Dakar Rally likely to impact the environment in three countries

By Igor I. Solar     Jan 9, 2013 in Environment
Santiago - The 34th version of the extreme off-road race called Dakar Rally began January 5 in Lima, and will end January 20 in Santiago de Chile. The grueling 8,400 Km trek could damage archaeological sites and natural environments in three countries.
The first version of the Dakar Rally took place in 1979-80 and covered rough terrain between Paris, France and Dakar, Senegal, with a transfer across the Mediterranean. Subsequent versions had involved departures from Senegal, France and from other European countries including Spain and Portugal, and finish in African countries in cities of Senegal, South Africa and Egypt.
Following multiple complaints from authorities over environmental issues, threats of terrorist attacks, criticisms and security concerns in the countries along the route and at both ends of the race, the rally was cancelled in 2008. Since 2009, the competition, still called Dakar Rally, has been organized in South America, mostly in Argentina and Chile, and from 2011, also including Perú. So far, the race has claimed the life of 60 people, mostly spectators, but also including 25 competitors.
Route of the Dakar Rally endurance race across three countries.
Route of the Dakar Rally endurance race across three countries.
Dakar Rally
Dakar Rally 2013
The 2013 Dakar Rally begun in Lima, Perú on January 5. It will cross into Chile on January 9, later on to Argentina on Jan. 11, back to Chile, across the Andes Mountains, to the city of Copiapó on the 17, ending in Santiago de Chile on Jan. 20.
The 2013 version of the demanding long-distance race involves 449 vehicles in three categories, 221 motorbikes (including 38 quads), 153 cars and 75 trucks. It also involves thousands of people including judges and overseers, mechanics, security, medical and other support personnel, reporters and spectators along the route extending for 8,400 kilometres mostly in desert areas of the three countries.
Damage to fossil deposits in Peru
Peruvian authorities are concerned about the potential risk of damage to the Ocucaje fossil zone of Ica, one of the world's largest fossil deposits dating about 20 million years. The Culture Ministry is erecting signs warning rally drivers of the existence of skeletons of large mammals, especially whales and dolphins, and the fossilized remains of penguins and many invertebrates that may be damaged by passing vehicles.
Klaus Honninger, director of the Meyer-Honninger Paleontological Museum in Perú calls the race an "enormous danger" for the Ocucaje fossils. His concern is based on what happened during last year’s rally when some cars ignored signs and crushed fossils in their path, spectators dumped tons of trash in the desert, and some people were seen using whale fossil vertebrae as benches.
Seven provinces at risk in Argentina
Argentinian authorities have also shown their concern about the environmental risks and potential impact of the race, which will pass through desert pampas in seven provinces (Jujuy, Salta, Tucumán, Santiago del Estero, Córdoba, La Rioja and Catamarca). Detailed regulations imposed on the organizers include 19 directives covering the handling of fuel and wastes, insurance and warranty deposits against damage to facilities and spectators, and submitting a document certifying commitment of keeping racers within pre-established routes and away from areas containing riverbeds and archaeological sites.
Harm to the 'Blooming Desert' in Chile
Along the route through northern Chile, vehicles and spectators will run over extensive areas of dunes which are habitat to desert animals and plants. It’s well known that Rally vehicles passing over sandy terrain may loosen the ground destroying or stunting the growth of plants which fixate the soil. The region of northern Chile being exposed to damage from vehicles and spectators contains a large area within the Atacama region which every year witnesses the wonderful spectacle of the blooming desert, an amazing phenomenon reported in Digital Journal in Nov. 2011.
Large extensions of the Atacama desert change colour with the sequencial blooming of the desert flow...
Large extensions of the Atacama desert change colour with the sequencial blooming of the desert flowers.
The Dakar Rally is an event lasting only 15 days; it results in a lot of fun and adrenaline for drivers of hundreds of cars, trucks and motorbikes; it is a good opportunity for vehicle manufacturers to use the harsh settings of the rally to test the endurance and reliability of their vehicles and represents a great occasion for marketing and profitable endorsements. However, the harm caused to natural environments can last much longer, and in some cases the damage may be irreversible. Valuable archaeological and paleontological treasures are put at risk, and the life of people in several ancient desert villages along the route is disrupted.
The Rally organizers argue that the actions to limit impact are efficient, and the mitigation measures are sufficient to compensate for environmental damage that occurs in the region. The experience from previous years has shown the opposite. Is it worth continuing in South America with a competition which poor safety and environmental record resulted in its termination in Europe and Africa? My opinion is: definitely not.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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