Wetlands without Borders
With our Wetlands without Borders program, we work towards environmentally sustainable and socially responsible governance of the wetlands system of the La Plata Basin in South America.
The wetlands system of the Paraguay and Parana rivers - the La Plata Basin - is the largest freshwater wetland in the world. It extends for more than 3,400 km from north to south, covering an area of approximately 400,000 square kilometers in 5 countries (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay) with varying climate zones, tropical, subtropical and moderate. The wetlands system has a regulating role in the low or rising water levels of the rivers of the system, it is a supplier of fresh water for human consumption and irrigation for agriculture, provides food for the approximately 160 million people living along its margins and plays a crucial role in continental and global climate control and local adaptation strategies.
Destructive activities threaten the La Plata Basin
For decades, the La Plata Basin has been threatened by decades of economic development mainly based on large-scale agriculture (soy), mining and forestry. In order to stimulate these activities, there has been a push by governments for large infrastructural projects, like hydropower dams, the Hidrovía Paraguay-Paraná (HPP, a canal crossing the wetlands), highways, railroads and harbor development. Massive deforestation, land conversion and water pollution also threaten the livelihoods of millions of small-scale farmers and fishermen who depend on the forests and rivers to make a living.
Strong civil society in a difficult context
Civil society in the region has played a significant role in protecting the basin's communities and ecology. Since more than three decades, a large number of local organisations have cooperated to build awareness on environmental questions and have effectively pushed for laws, rules and regulations that form the basis of effective and inclusive environmental governance of the basin. This strong civil society movement managed to prevent the Hidrovía Paraguay-Paraná (HPP) when the plan was first launched in the 1990s.
Now that plans for the HPP have resurfaced, in addition to various hydropower dams and an ongoing expansion of large-scale agriculture, cattle breeding, mining and forestry, action by a strong civil society is needed more than ever. However, the political situation in some of the countries is worrying and the space for civil society to act is shrinking. Brazil is the country where most Human Rights Defenders are being killed. In Bolivia CSOs that are involved in actions that are not in line with government policies, are likely to be shut down by the authorities. All countries have in common that local communities rarely are involved in decision-making processes.
The Wetlands without Borders Programme
The Wetlands without Borders programme is designed by a coalition of 7 organisations from the La Plata Basin (CAUCE, CODES, Escola de Ativismo, FARN, Instituto GAIA, Probioma, Sobrevivencia) and Both ENDS. We build upon the already existing civil society networks to once again protect the La Plata Basin from immediate threats. An added value of the Wetlands without Borders program is that we will not only fight these unsustainable developments, but also offer alternatives for inclusive natural resource governance and sustainable economic development of the region.
Fighting the Hidrovía Paraguay-Paraná
The Paraguay Paraná River is a major transport route for shipment of raw materials produced in the region. In order to make the river suitable for more and bigger ships throughout the year, the 'Hidrovía Paraguay-Paraná' (HPP; a 'Hidrovía' is a water 'highway') was planned in the 1990s. This regional plan comprises several interventions in the river, varying from deepening of the river bottom, rectification of river bends or the removal of rock formations. These interventions will have irreversible consequences for the wetlands system and its communities.
The Wetland without Borders partners therefore aim to prevent the interventions in the Paraguay Paraná River. At the same time, we aim to develop and introduce alternatives to the HPP, such as navigation systems that are adapted to the river.
Brazil: 168 small dams threaten the free river flow
The Brazilian government is implementing a plan to construct 168 small hydropower dams in the basin of the Alto Paraguay River. About a quarter of them has been constructed already. Every dam will have a huge impact on the downstream areas: they will lead to a loss of fish production, impact the tourism sector, and affect traditional farmers by a change in the seasonal floodings of their lands. Nevertheless no environmental impact studies exist, nor are the local communities informed or involved in any decision-making on these projects.
At the start of the programme, many of the sub-basins are still free of dams, and we want to keep it that way. At the same time, we advocate for a sustainable Basin Plan to be developed, with consultation of local communities.
Argentina: sustainable regional development of the Paraná Delta
A special opportunity lies in the ambition of the local governments in the Argentinean Paraná Delta to develop a plan for the Paraná Delta which conserves biodiversity but at the same time allows economic activities. Our program partners will advocate for the development and implementation of a strong and sustainable Delta plan and make sure it is being discussed at all government levels and with all stakeholders. In addition, we will inform and empower civil society in order to enable them to actively participate in key decision-making processes. The voices of the residents of the Paraná Delta have to be heard in the development of the Delta plan.
In this context, we will also take a closer look at the Dutch-Argentine cooperation in the field of water management, which will also affect the Paraná Delta.
Agro-ecology: local and sustainable food production
One of the sustainable alternatives we want to promote is agro-ecology, a sustainable production system that strengthens and promotes water conservation, sustainable use of natural resources and the preservation of local knowledge. We see agro-ecology as an important method of adaptation to climate change and as an alternative that can halt deforestation caused by, for example, expansion of soy and cattle farms.
Therefore, our local partners will promote the method amongst producers and train them, whilst at the same time advocate for the inclusion of agro-ecology in the spatial and economic development plans of local and national governments.
Bio-cultural corridors: connecting pockets of ecosystems
In La Plata Basin, the original ecosystems (jungles, savannahs, grasslands and wetlands) are fragmented into islands that are not connected and can no longer fulfil their biological and cultural functions. These ecosystem islands today can mainly be found in protected areas, indigenous lands, some peasant communities and some private properties.
To reconnect these islands, the Wetlands without Borders program envisions the creation of biocultural corridors. The idea of biocultural corridors proposes the restoration of waterbodies (small streams, rivers, lakes, springs) that flow towards the wetlands system of La Plata Basin and to the Alto Paraná River. The restored corridors, once implemented, will recover the connection between the ecosystem pockets and therefore restore and strengthen their biological and cultural functions. We aim to promote the idea of biocultural corridors, have it recognized as a solution for the preservation and restoration of ecosystems and included in government spatial and economic development plans.
Click here for the Wetlands Without Borders website and for more information.
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The rising demand for soy is having negative consequences for people and the environment in South America. Both ENDS reminds Dutch actors in the soy industry of their responsibilities and is working with partners on fair and sustainable alternatives.
Large-scale infrastructural projects have detrimental effects on local people and the environment, while their benefits are felt elsewhere. Both ENDS is working to ensure that local people have a greater say in decision-making and is investigating the way these projects are funded.
News / 26 August 2022
In Argentina, the wetlands of the Paraná Delta are burning. The fires, caused by human activity and aggrevated by climate change, clearly show the wetlands need protection. The Argentinian organisations that form part of the Wetlands without Borders programme are therefore calling for a strong "Ley de Humedales", a Wetlands Law.
News / 22 March 2022
These past weeks we have been joining the #WeWomenAreWater campaign to put the spotlights on just climate solutions of and for women, girls, trans, intersex and non-binary people around the world. The campaign started on International Women's Day (March 8th) and ends today, on World Water Day. Just climate solutions already exist but these initiatives are grossly underfunded, and the people implementing them are also those most impacted by climate change and climate-related water scarcity. Therefore, we would like to highlight, especially today on World Water Day, some of these solutions below. And we also have a special message from the colleagues at Both ENDS working on inclusive water governance.
Blog / 2 February 2022
On World Wetlands Day communities throughout the La Plata Basin are asking for support in their fight for their endangered wetland ecosystemsBy Eva Schmitz
The new year has barely begun but already record high summer temperatures are being reported in parts of South America, especially Argentina, Paraguay and Southern Brazil. The latest heatwave, with temperatures of up to 45C, arrives on top of two years of severe drought which had a devastating effect on the entire region. It is a painful reminder of the immediacy of climate change and emblematic for what happens when vital ecosystems are not protected and for the catastrophic consequences as much on already endangered wildlife as on the local communities who depend on them for their livelihoods. One of the most affected areas are the regions wetlands – unique ecosystems, which are crucial ecological pressure points, vital for the regulation of river systems and huge carbon sinks. Their loss not only has ecological impacts but affects thousands of local communities which depend on their health for fishing, tourism and local agriculture. The threat to them by for example droughts and fires, can be directly linked to the large-scale production of soy, produced mainly for export. This in turn means responsibility for what is happening in the region needs to be acknowledged and shared by leaders around the world, and especially large importers such as the Netherlands.
External link / 20 January 2022
The Wetlands without Borders programme aims to preserve the biodiversity of the La Plata Basin and the sustainable livelihoods of its communities. Preservation of the La Plata Basin is essential for protecting the region from flood and drought, and preserving the quality of life of its inhabitants. Click here for the programme's website and for the latest information.
News / 6 May 2021
Yesterday unexpectedly our Wetlands without Border programme suffered a tragic loss with the sudden passing of our dear colleague and friend Elias Dias Peña of Sobrevivencia, Paraguay.
News / 21 September 2020
The Pantanal, the world's largest freshwater wetland, is suffering exceptionally devastating forest fires, mostly caused by human activities. Over the past few months, an area as big as Northern Ireland has burned down. Both ENDS's partner organisations call for attention for this ecological and social disaster.
External link / 19 June 2020
A popular committee succeeded in preventing a licence for a hydrodam in the river Jauquara, Brazil. Building a transnational people's movement to protect the wetland ecosystem: that's what the Wetlands Without Borders programme is all about. "Being connected provides a lifeline for communities."
Blog / 28 May 2020
The Rio de la Plata Basin in South America extends across Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The livelihoods of the millions of people who live there – city-dwellers, small farmers and fishers, and indigenous peoples – are under pressure from soya cultivation, mining and logging, and by the construction of dams and ports. The COVID-19 crisis is making the situation even worse.
External link / 29 May 2019
The South American La Plata Basin is the largest freshwater wetland in the world. Monoculture, ranching, mining and infrastructure projects are among the many threats to the wetland system, its forests and rivers, and the livelihoods of the many people who depend on them. Our partners in the region work tirelessly to preserve the basin.
News / 14 November 2018
Each year on the 14th of November, in the Brazilian city of Cáceres the 'Day of the Paraguay River' (Dia do Rio Paraguai) is celebrated. This tradition started in the year 2000, when civil society mobilized for the first time and successfully campaigned against the construction of the Hidrovía Paraguay-Paraná. Since then, the date symbolizes the close relationship of the people with the river, its culture and the environment.
News / 26 September 2018
Good news from Brazil! The National Water Agency (ANA) has stopped issuing new permits for the construction of hydroelectric dams in the Brazilian Paraguay river basin, which is part of the Pantanal wetlands in South-America. The suspension will last at least until May 2020, after the publication of a comprehensive socio-economic and environmental impact assessment that the ANA started in 2016.
Publication / 2 December 2014