Brazil’s Pantanal wetland is under serious threat

. May 15, 2018
pantanal wetland risk wwf Pantanal is under threat, says WWF

Any debate about the environment in Brazil usually includes the Amazon rainforest. On the other hand, Pantanal, the largest wetland on the planet, remains relatively unknown to international audiences. It also hasn’t been extensively explored by locals, despite its abundance of wildlife and picturesque landscapes. Pantanal is part of the Paraguay River Basin, an area that extends across Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Argentina, and where about 10 million people currently live. The floodplain covers the equivalent of the Netherlands, Belgium, Portugal, and Switzerland.

These superlative dimensions, however, are not enough to preserve Pantanal. About 40 percent of the wetlands are under serious threat, according to a recent WWF report. Pantanal has been made a World Heritage Site by the United Nations, yet national law suspends the territory in a position of vulnerability. Less than 1 percent of the tableland is protected by Conservation Units, and over half of the area has already been cleared.

</p> <p>“If agribusiness does not change the way it works, Pantanal and their own production will suffer a collapse in the next coming years due to a shortage of ecosystem assets, like water,” Julio Cesar Sampaio, head of WWF’s Cerrado Pantanal Program, told <strong>The Brazilian Report</strong>. Agribusiness, the strongest economic force in the region (and the leading player in Brazil’s economy during 2017), is also one of the main villains. Its actions have a significant impact on local biodiversity and soil erosion.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image alignnone size-full wp-image-4211"><img loading="lazy" width="810" height="450" src="" alt="pantanal wetland risks wwf" class="wp-image-4211" srcset=" 810w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 810px) 100vw, 810px" /><figcaption>Source: WWF</figcaption></figure> <p>One of its main effects is the alteration of flood dynamics. The intense conversion of Cerrado (a savanna-like vegetation that covers 21 percent of Brazil) into pastureland and crop fields is among the practices followed by local producers. “Overgrazing is common in cattle-rearing areas, compacting the soil and generating higher rates of surface runoff,” the Embrapa (Brazilian Agricultural Research Corporation, part of the Ministry of Agriculture) researcher Iván Bergier explains in the WWF report.</p> <h3>A strong lobby</h3> <p>Julio Cesar Sampaio outlines how agriculture and the livestock industry still increase their lands, dramatically reducing the natural area, and “sometimes, putting a lot of pressure on the headwaters of important rivers. They need to change this situation. The farms and the whole market have to take responsibility for conservation and need to promote and provide improved services. They need to implement a different method of producing,” says Sampaio.</p> <p>The WWF report&nbsp;recommends changes in cattle management techniques, such as avoiding an excessive number of animals per hectare, and includes measures to reduce and control soil erosion. For environmentalists, the main threat posed to the environment by cattle management relates to the ways in which the region’s highlands are being used. Sampaio urges sustainable and intelligent systems for soil conservation and chemicals: “The current model of livestock farming carries sediments and contaminants to the rivers, <a href="">degrading the water</a>.”</p> <figure class="wp-block-image alignnone size-full wp-image-4205"><img loading="lazy" width="640" height="399" src="" alt="Blairo Maggi Michel Temer agribusiness pantanal" class="wp-image-4205" srcset=" 640w, 300w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 640px) 100vw, 640px" /><figcaption>Min. of Agriculture Blairo Maggi and Pres. Temer. Photo: PR</figcaption></figure> <p>Agribusiness moguls are among the top politicians in Brazil, especially in the Center-West region. They also form what is known as the Congress’ “Beef Caucus,’ a group that lobbies for agribusiness giants and supports a right-wing agenda. This pressure group is not only in Congress, but now runs the Ministry of Agriculture.</p> <p>Minister of Agriculture Blairo Maggi was once called Brazil’s “Soy King.” His food production group reported sales of USD 3 billion in 2012. In 2005, Greenpeace awarded Maggi the Golden Chainsaw Award – for being “the person who most contributed to the Amazon’s destruction.”</p> <p>Maggi served as governor of Mato Grosso State for eight years, where the estimated deficit in legal reserves is 392,000 hectares.</p> <h3>It’s not only about the main rivers</h3> <p>Infrastructure projects join agribusiness in the alarming scenario. The region’s entire economic life depends on the cycle of rising and falling waters. But the local government has plans to construct over 140 small dams to generate power. Forty of these facilities have already been built, damming up about 20 watercourses. Obviously, these structures affect water flow.</p> <p>Industrial navigation projects pose another threat to Pantanal’s waters, and many of them are located in Paraguay River. Sampaio explains that these projects could dangerously alter the wetland ecosystem: “These interventions can change the river flow and then the inundation dynamic of this big wetland.” A lack of basic sanitation (on average, under 15 percent of sewage is treated) in urban areas can also be added to the list of problems, since sewage remains frequently end up in basin waters.</p> <p>Rivers are the number one priority when it comes to emergency actions for protecting Pantanal.&nbsp; Sampaio proposes a broader approach to the way we consider them: “It is not about the main rivers. The river is a system that includes areas where rainwater can infiltrate, and the springs, and the forest around the springs &#8230; So, when this system is healthy, the water and the rivers are healthy, as well.”

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Maria Martha Bruno

Maria Martha is a journalist with 14 years of experience in politics, arts, and breaking news. She has already collaborated with Al Jazeera, NBC, and CNN, among others. She has also worked as an international correspondent in Buenos Aires.

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