Tuesday :: Mar 22, 2005

Disappearing Wetlands

by Mary

The world's largest wetlands in South America are under severe stress and could become the next Everglades. The pantanal wetlands cover a region about the size of Florida and covers parts of Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil. Today, in observation of World Water Day, the UN University published a report warning of the dangers facing this region known as Mato Grosso. The region is one of world's bio-diversity treasures with more than 650 species of birds, some 1,100 species of butterflys, and 270 species of fish. But today, it is a region under threat from both global and local forces.

The UNU report reminds people about how humanity relies on the services of wetlands in addition to the bio-diversity bank:

In a message to mark World Water Day, March 22, UNU says the Pantanal provides enormous environmental services by storing and purifying water, providing storm protection and flood mitigation, and stabilizing the local climate, particularly rainfall and temperature.

The major global threat to these wetlands is from climate change. An estimated 4-5 centgrade increase in temperature will result in 85% reduction of the world's wetlands which are so necessary for maintaining those services.

Local threats are of the same type as the Everglades faced when the rivers through Florida were channeled to open the land for farming and to prevent flooding. We are now aware that the ecosystem of the Everglades were incredibly important and a multi-billion dollar restoration effort has been undertaken there. (Yet, just this month, an Army Corps of Engineers report indicates little has been done in the past five years on this plan except to generate paperwork.)

In the Pantanal, the risks come from the intensive peripheral agriculture and industrial and urban development. Humans are transforming the area with the industrial farms (China imports a significant percentage of the soybeans grown there), the dam for hydroelectic power, mining, and roads. The area is also under threat from overfishing and tourism as well as the numbers of people moving there to make a living.

The UNU report talks about the types of steps that must be taken to prevent further damage and to preserve this incredible land for the future. It notes that one major challenge for managing this ecosystem is cooperation among all the stakeholders.

The complex interconnections and inter-linkages at the ecological level – as for example, between climate change and biodiversity – underline the need to develop inter-linkages at the policy level as well, UNU says. In other words, the environmental, economic, and social impacts of activities of stakeholders in the Pantanal should be considered in managing the wetlands.

It says improved coordination at the regional level will lead to more effective management of the Pantanal and similar wetlands. "In order to identify and effectively use the synergies that exist in the natural environment, a systematic approach to environmental decision making and management is urgently needed. The Interlinkages approach offers a coordinated way to achieve this goal," the analysis says.

Although we talk often about the energy problem as the world's appetite for oil outpaces the amount available, the real problem for the 21st century will be one of water and how we manage our way through the next few decades. Finding a way to preserve the Pantanal will be one of the measures of whether humans will have a planet that is worth living on in the future.

Mary :: 7:32 PM :: Comments (5) :: Digg It!