30 junho 2017
If its springs are not well preserved, there will be very serious consequences in the future
Renata Andrada Peña
The study “Alto Paraguay River Basin – land use and occupation
” launched by WWF-Brazil, the Dom Bosco Catholic University (UCDB) and the Tuiuiú Foundation, has revealed some bad news: just 45% of the headwaters region of the Pantanal is preserved, and its legal reserve has a deficit of approximately 392,000 hectares. The cost to recuperate this environmental liability will be over 1 billion dollars.
“This is a very bad scenario as it rains very little in the Pantanal, despite this being an area with seasonal flooding. If its springs are not well preserved, there will be very serious consequences in the future. There are currently regions that are permanently flooded due to the degradation of the headwaters region,” says Júlio César Sampaio, coordinator of the Cerrado Pantanal Program. “Recuperation is important as this directly affects the availability of water for cities and agriculture,” adds Sampaio.
But there is also some good news relating to the flood plain, the Pantanal that we know from photographs: 82% of this area is preserved. “This result indicates that the sustainable farming models that have been implemented and developed in the region have worked and that the population can be fed and meat markets can be supplied without degrading the environment,” explains the coordinator for WWF-Brazil. “The Pantanal also provides environmental benefits, such as climate regulation and a regular flooding, which are essential for cattle production and soil fertility. Therefore, if the flood plain is preserved, all of these benefits will be guaranteed,” he states.
The Future of the Pantanal
The monitoring of the Alto Paraguay river basin, launched today by WWF-Brazil and its partners, allows the panorama for the Pantanal over the coming years to be forecast. “If the plateau (in the headwater region) remains as poorly preserved as it is now or worsens, the flood plain will undergo drastic changes, and in the future we will witness a reduction in the preservation of this area too,” ensures Júlio César Sampaio.
The coordinator for WWF-Brazil also states that in a few decades, the regular flooding of the Pantanal could become a thing of the past, causing some areas to become permanently waterlogged. “This would reduce farming productivity, displacing local populations and reducing property values. At the same time, other regions may no longer be flooded, reducing the fertility of the soil and causing significant impacts to farming”.
In addition, the degradation of the highlands will affect the water cycle of the lowlands, and this will lead to a loss of biodiversity. There are over 4,000 animal and plant species in the Pantanal, and these depend on the integrity of the entire biome in order to survive. Contaminations in rivers and springs in the plateau region – due to a lack of basic sanitation and bad farming practices – trickle down into the waters of the flood plain, affecting the entire Pantanal.
WWF-Brazil’s work to protect the Pantanal headwaters
WWF-Brazil has been working to protect the Pantanal since the 1990s. In 2012, a study organised by the NGO and its partners revealed that the headwaters region was at extreme risk due to deforestation, a lack of basic sanitation and bad farming practices. That same year, WWF-Brazil launched its “Pantanal Headwaters Pact”, a movement to protect the region’s water resources. The Pantanal headwaters span 25 municipalities within the state of Mato Grosso. All of the local governments involved, as well as the state government, WWF-Brazil, the private sector (such as the water company Lebrinha) and civil society organisations participate in this initiative, which since 2015 has recuperated 80 springs, adapted over 100 km of rural roads and benefitted 38 families with the installation of eco-friendly septic tanks (which as well as solving the problem of basic sanitation in small rural properties, provide safe organic fertilizer that increases production). Find out more here: www.pactopelopantanal.com.br
The Pantanal is the largest wetland area on the planet. It covers an area of 170,500.92 km² – part of the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, as well as Bolivia and Paraguay – and is home to a rich biodiversity: at least 4,700 animal and plant species have been registered in the area to date. As a result of its environmental importance, this biome was declared a National Heritage Site in Brazil’s 1988 constitution, and a World Heritage Site and Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations in 2000.