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Wednesday, March 02, 2022

The hidden face of Anaga

Macizo de Anaga

Depopulation is a problem that affects a large part of the territories of Spain, in general, and the Canary Islands, in particular. Municipalities such as Garafía, in La Palma, or Anaga, in Tenerife, suffer limitations on the way of life of their inhabitants, in terms of basic services.

The Anaga Rural Park is an asset of high cultural and natural value. It was declared a Biosphere Reserve on June 9, 2015 and is a site of great tourist attraction. 

However, the problems of the Massif are unique, a situation that persists, locals opine, due to the ineffectiveness of the Santa Cruz City Council, the entity in charge of managing the territory. The sum of these factors has as a consequence the migration towards the cities and the increasing depopulation of the hamlets.

Currently, 12,033 people live in the region and the reasons that lead them to leave their homes are multifactorial, such as: poor management of telecommunications, education, health and transportation. 

ANAGA, OUT OF COVERAGE

One of the problems that the inhabited centres of Anaga have is the inefficient telecommunications network. The complicated orography, the weather conditions, as well as the low population density index have caused the Rural Park to be one of the areas with the worst signal coverage in Tenerife. In addition, the condition of Protected Natural Area and Biosphere Reserve obliges the authorities to carry out any work in communication matters, avoiding environmental impact.

The telecommunications infrastructure management plan, prepared by the Cabildo de Tenerife and the Government of the Canary Islands, in 2018, establishes that the coverage of Digital Terrestrial Television (DTT) covers 82% of the Island and reaches 98% of the habitants. Despite the fact that the problem affects 2% of Tenerife residents, it is the duty of the institutions to guarantee access to information. However, and although it is an obligation of the public authorities, articulating this right in the area is very complex.

One of the great milestones experienced by the towns of Anaga was the analog blackout of 2010. From then on, all analog signals were suppressed in favor of DTT, a technology with higher audiovisual quality. However, the problem with the new standard is that it does not understand average terms, either it is seen or it is not seen, while the analog one, with interference, allowed different signals to be tuned. When the blackout was executed, the first problems began. One of the characteristics of Anaga is the dispersion of the houses and, although the signal reached the main villages in the area, the most distant homes lost access to television.

Regions like Anaga, with communication difficulties, are called shadow zones. A term that, according to the Ministry of Economy and Business, is an area where "once the deployment and extensions of land coverage have been completed, they do not have a signal or it is very poor". Over the months, the situation was resolved thanks to the use of satellite television, by installing a satellite dish in each affected home. However, the inconveniences did not stop accumulating, such as, for example, the poor maintenance of the repeaters, responsible for carrying the signal.

Another of Anaga's great communication problems is the internet. Today, the Rural Park works with an ADSL connection and the city council has not expressed any plans to install the fiber optic network in the Massif. The most recent news dates from 2017, the year in which the Cabildo de Tenerife undertook to deploy a WiMax connection. The standard promoted by the insular institution assumes that the population of the Rural Park can access an internet connection via satellite and better than ADSL. However, its quality is far from that offered by fiber optics.

THEY ARE GOING TO CLOSE OUR SCHOOLS!

The education factor is another of the determining factors for the people who live in Anaga. The area barely has centres that allow the academic development of infants, which makes it difficult to access this basic right. In the Massif there are four institutions in operation, which is insufficient for the 26 settlements that exist there, given the great dispersion between them and the little training that is offered.

The lack of educational institutions is due to the fact that there are few students in the region, which, in turn, is a consequence of the scarcity of basic services. In recent years, institutions in Afur, Casas de la Cumbre, Taborno, Almáciga and Chamorga have been closed.

Since the end of the last century, the schools decided to unite and create the 'Collective of Rural Schools of Anaga’ (CER Anaga), to support each other through cooperation between teachers and institutions. The association has been working against the closure of centres and the lack of commitment of the government bodies in charge.

Chamorga, Macizo de Anaga, Tenerife Michal Klajban, CC BY-SA 4.0

The CER Anaga, the Governing Board and the Neighbourhood Associations of the Rural Park, released the sixth volume of 'Anaga Cuenta' (Anaga Counts), in April 2000, headed by the headline "THE SCHOOLS ARE GOING TO CLOSE!" The publication highlighted the importance of having educational centres enabled for the youngest, and thus avoid "couples having to emigrate, in order to give their children the educational opportunities that they did not have."

Luján González, president of the Taganana Neighbourhood Association, notes that “with depopulation, the number of students has been decreasing. There are currently twelve in Taganana. In the years 1970-80's there could be between 30 and 40 children per classroom”.

El Macizo adopted an initiative called 'Biosphere Schools' in the 2018-19 academic year, a project that seeks to create collaboration networks between educational centres. Participating in this are CEIP Punta del Hidalgo, CEIP Melchor Núñez Tejera, in Tegueste, CEIP Julián Rojas de Vera, in Taganana, and CEIP Sor Florentina and Agustín Cabrera Díaz, in Roque Negro. In the 2019-20 academic year, Anaga institutions only had 39 students enrolled. A situation that is getting worse after each year and that limits the opportunities for learning and social development of the youngest.

THE INEFFICIENCY CURVES

Currently, Anaga is experiencing a problem with its network of buses. In the words of the insular director of Highways, Tomás García, “it is very important to reach consensus in order to carry out the work on the entire highway that reaches Almáciga. Having solved the inconveniences in this route, the others will be very easy to tackle”.

The central casuistry, on which the rest of the problems revolve, are the infrastructures. To this is added what the insular director of Mobility, José Alberto León, says, stating that the solution lies in establishing and promoting mobility in public transport.

In the words of Luján González, the public transport system in Anaga is “precarious”. In addition, he comments that it is important to have your own vehicle, because if you travel by bus you may have limitations, both in leaving and to return to town.

Most of the roads are in poor condition. Faced with this, Tomás García confirmed, last April, that they are working to form a new crew of personnel aimed at maintenance. This began to work last summer on the Anaga roads. 

The traffic that accumulates on the roads of the main neighbourhoods of Anaga makes life difficult for its inhabitants. The high volume of drivers who come each week is significant. These, on occasion, leave their vehicles in the middle of a road that is predominantly narrow, with almost no possibility of finding a place to park. This creates problems for bus drivers, who see their route is hampered and impossible to follow.

The case is exacerbated by situations such as the San Andrés Bridge, which joins Taganana, Almáciga and Taborno, and which was under construction until December. This is the main connection point to get to Santa Cruz.

Intersindical Canaria, the majority union within Titsa, asks for the construction of a second bridge. The union believes that this latest reform of the bridge will mean that "when it is completed, vehicles of more than twelve tons will not be allowed to pass, limiting access of Titsa vehicles, tourist or school buses."

Throughout the process of improving the structure, the residents of the towns of Anaga have had great mobility difficulties. This despite the creation of a provisional bridge. The limitation of access for heavy vehicles, as well as the few connections (one route through Santa Cruz de Tenerife and the other through La Laguna, through Las Mercedes) have been the biggest problems.

Church of Nuestra Señora de Las Nieves, Taganana Jose Mesa, CC BY-SA 2.0

CONDITION OF THE PATIENT, IMPROVABLE

Regarding the health field, there are only two clinics, in San Andrés and Taganana, and a health centre in Valleseco. The other villages have to go to the nearest health institution. Specifically, the neighbourhoods affected by this medical shortage are 16: Afur, Almáciga, Bailadero, Catalanes, Casas de la Cumbre, Chamorga, Cueva Bermeja, El Draguillo, La Cumbrilla, Lomo de las Bodegas, Los Campitos, Mª Jimenez, Roque Bermejo , Roque Negro, Taborno and Valle Tahodio.

Due to the dispersion of the populations, the aforementioned hamlets are at a considerable distance from clinics. Infrastructures that, in addition, have few medical personnel who can attend to the health needs of the villages.

Taganana's office does not have an emergency service.

In clinics like the one in Taganana, the doctor comes to write a prescription, but this professional is not permanent, so the centre is not open on weekends. The absence of ambulances causes waiting times to be high. Luján González comments that “you can go to any consultation during the week, but if you want to go to the doctor, you have to go to Santa Cruz. If you have something serious, you stay by the wayside”.

Last September, the residents of San Andrés presented more than 600 signatures to the Ministry of Health demanding better primary care. 

Despite this situation, there are initiatives to help, with special interest, the elderly. This is the case of the Anaga Project, created by the Official Association of Pharmacists of Santa Cruz de Tenerife, in collaboration with the Insular Institute of Social and Socio-Sanitary Care (IASS).

The proposal is based on the delivery of personalized drug dosage systems (SPD) at the patient's home. Devices that facilitate the taking of drugs and their proper dosage, at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Visits are made every two weeks and are complemented by weekly telephone follow-up. However, during the lockdown of 2020, calls were daily, since the homes were only visited once a month.

THE HONEY OF AUTONOMY

Anaga is a particular area, with different conditions from the rest of the island. However, its administration is divided between three municipalities; those of La Laguna, Tegueste and Santa Cruz de Tenerife. A condition that makes it difficult to carry out specific actions for this region.

In the case of Taganana, its City Council was formed in 1813, until its annexation to Santa Cruz, in the year 1850. However, the inhabitants requested its restitution in the year 1859, to be denied. In 1868 a revolutionary City Council was constituted, which was in force for nine years until its disappearance. Since then, the hamlet definitely became part of the municipality of the capital.

Luján González, president of the Neighbourhood Association, comments that "Taganana is a town, we do not feel like Santacruceros, for us it was a disgrace to lose our City Hall." In addition, the hamlets of the Macizo are in a state of “desolation” by public institutions, he affirms. This is why they seek help or support from Santa Cruz and indicates that “as part of the municipality, we have the right. A right that we were forced to have by eliminating the Taganana Council.”

PUBLIC RESPONSIBILITY

The laws of conservation of the environment, the orography and the scarce economic yield that Anaga supposes, have caused that the depopulation situation has worsened over the years. Excessive bureaucracy and lack of sensitivity and politics, causes the solutions that are proposed to take years to implement and, when they do, they are poorly executed.

Poor healthcare, school closures and poor transport systems in the Massif have brought socio-economic development to a complete standstill. Currently, the region depends economically on tourism, its hiking trails and landscapes. However, this activity does not affect all the villages equally, since Taganana mainly benefits from this activity.

Creating solutions to depopulation

The Government of the Canary Islands, together with the Canarian Federation of Municipalities, launched an agreement with the aim of reducing depopulation in rural areas of the islands in 2021. From there, a total of 14.5 million euros, which will be distributed among the 58 more depopulated municipalities. The criteria to carry out the distribution are: the creation of a solidarity fund, the number of inhabitants and the level of applicants for protected housing, in order to make an equitable distribution.

In addition, the businesses of the village follow the same fiscal conditions as the capital. This ends up being a limitation for the development of trade in the area. González points out that "they cannot charge the same taxes to those who have a store in Taganana, as in Castillo Street", given that the isolation and accessibility problems of the village are clear handicaps compared to the cities.

To carry out this report we have contacted the different authorities involved in the management of the Anaga Natural Park. However, we have not received a response from those in charge, redirecting us to different bodies of the City Council and Cabildo. This situation exemplifies the impotence of the population of Anaga, who do not obtain useful and rapid responses from their institutions.

The poor state of all these public services are the main obstacle for the inhabitants of Anaga. The solution to these problems lies with the authorities, who must assume their obligation to the Park's public services. Although, for this, they must first abandon their search for economic profitability.

* 4th year journalism students at the University of La Laguna 

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