On World Wetlands Day communities throughout the La Plata Basin are asking for support in their fight for their endangered wetland ecosystems
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.
Today, on World Wetlands Day, I would like to take the opportunity to highlight the specific importance of these wetlands for both climate change mitigation and adaptation, whilst also shining a light on the inspiring efforts by the local organisations with whom Both ENDS works to protect the La Plata Basin's unique ecosystems.
Importance of wetlands
Wetlands are one of the most unique and biodiverse ecosystems of the world. They perform two important functions in relation to climate change, as they store carbon and therefore help mitigate climate change. Wetlands also absorb abundant water and this way play a role in adapting to changing rainfall patterns. Despite this vital role in keeping the world's climate and the region's water levels in balance, wetlands are being gravely threatened by environmental degradation through human activity. And it is important to note that in the La Plata Basin, many of these threats can be directly linked to impacts caused by Dutch government policies, Dutch companies and Dutch consumers.
Dutch policy threatens the Pantanal
The Netherlands, being Europe's top importer of soy beans from South America, contributes to the ever-expanding agricultural frontier into the fragile and unique ecosystems of wetlands of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia. This frontier does not only expand through slash and burn tactics of expanding fields, but also through a growing network of infrastructure projects - countless ports, roads, small and large dams - needed to transport the soy beans to the import markets. This infrastructure further exacerbates the already rampant destruction of precious river systems and natural wonders such as the Pantanal wetlands.
Additionally, climate change is already increasingly manifesting itself in the La Plata Basin. Last year, the water levels of the Parana river were the lowest in almost eighty years. This is due to the extreme drought and dwindling rainfall upstream in Brazil. Experts mention that wetlands degradation, hydroelectric dams, and deforestation on top of the climate crisis, have worsened the drought that began in 2019. Two years ago, the extreme drought and slash and burn that nearly 30% of the unique Pantanal wetland area was destroyed in completely unprecedented series of wildfires
Local communities protect the wetlands
However, many of the regions' communities have not given up the struggle yet . They are fighting not only against the loss of important ecosystems and unique biodiversity, but also against the ensuing loss of local communities' livelihoods through the destruction of valuable fishing areas or tourists spots, as well as the loss of their cultural heritage which is entwined in the health of the rivers and wetlands.
Both ENDS has since 1995 been working together with a coalition of partners towards the goal of protecting the La Plata Basin. Over the past years, in our programme 'Wetlands without Borders' local organisations have mounted political actions for the protection of the ecosystems. But they have also been busy designing methods and practices of livelihood which are in harmony with their natural surrounding. Through embracing new practices specifically adapted to wetlands areas local people are for example supported in developing agro-ecological farms in Bolivia and Brazil, or trained to produce unique 'Wetland honey' in Paraguay. This experience shows that there are plenty of opportunities to mitigate climate change and enhance the ecosystem's adaptive capacities through protection of wetlands without giving up economical or social development.
But their battle against climate change and environmental degradation can not be won in one country or one region alone. The Dutch government has been doing great strides towards climate adaptation in their own country, and it has big ambitions when it comes to supporting other countries in their plans to adapt, such as through the Global Centre on Adaptation based in the Netherlands.
So while the local communities are doing their best to protect some of the world's most vulnerable ecosystems, they and we are asking countries like the Netherlands to do much more when it comes to transforming their ambitions into tangible realities. For example we call on them to play an decisive role in ensuring that the new EU regulation on deforestation is indeed as robust as it can bee. (See statement to be released on February 3rd by civil society actors from all over Europe. )
Click here for the Wetlands Without Borders website and for the latest news of the region.
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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.
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.
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 / 2 November 2015
The Pantanal, in the heart of South America, at the border of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay, is the world’s largest freshwater wetland with an extremely rich biodiversity. Tourism and fishing are the main sources of income for the local population. This enormous natural area is invaluable for the water management of a large part of the continent, stretching all the way down to the Argentinian La Plata area, some 1,500 kilometres away. The area faces many threats and Both ENDS therefore already started actively supporting local organisations striving to protect the Pantanal in 1994.
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.
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.
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."
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.
News / 12 October 2018
After 15 years, the members of the Dutch Soy Coalition have decided to disband the coalition. A total of 16 civil society organisations have worked together for many years to put the negative impact of the production, transport, processing and consumption of soy on the agenda and to seek solutions together with other stakeholders.
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.
News / 15 November 2018
On Wednesday, November 14, Dutch Newspaper De Volkskrant published a joint op-ed by Both ENDS, Hivos, Greenpeace Netherlands and Witness about the deforestation in the Amazon region which is still going on rapidly, having disastrous consequences for the indigenous people who live in the area, for biodiversity and for the climate. The Netherlands is one of the largest buyers of Brazilian agricultural products such as soy and beef, and should ensure that deforestation, land grabbing and human rights violations do not occur in these production chains. Unfortunately, this is not at all the case yet.
Event / 16 November 2020, 18:30 - 19:30
The Netherlands is a major business partner to Brazil and has not been deterred by the record of human rights' abuses by Bolsonaro's government, nor by the coup d'Etat against the president Dilma Rousseff in 2016. How do the Dutch economic ties with the Brazilian political and corporate elites affect the Brazilian population, in particular indigenous peoples, nature and the global climate?
Press release / 26 August 2020
Dutch pension money is invested heavily in companies that contribute to deforestation in the Amazon region and the Cerrado savanna in Brazil, such as soy, animal feed and beef companies. This is concluded in a report published today by Profundo, commisioned by the Fair Finance Guide, Hivos and Both ENDS. All ten pension funds that were examined invest in these types of companies, with the ABP pension fund and Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn on top with investments worth EUR 580 million and EUR 383 million respectively.
Publication / 26 August 2020
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.
News / 16 August 2016
10 songs: that is the result of a 4 day long, 450 km boat trip through the Pantanal with 36 people. The project Pantanal Poética sought and found a new way to look at the Pantanal, a valuable but threatened nature reserve on the border of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay.
News / 13 April 2015
For several decades, Both ENDS has been closely following the developments in this large water area in the centre of South America. We work closely with organisations which aim to ensure that the local population knows about these developments and, if necessary, protect it from these changes. But why is this area both so special and important for the whole of South America? And what exactly is threatening this area? C. Cornell Evers, independent photographer and writer, spoke with Tamara Mohr of Both ENDS and Sander van Andel of IUCN to find answers. The result of this meeting is an interesting interview.
Publication / 2 December 2014
News / 14 March 2021
A number of our colleagues at Both ENDS made a lot of noise at various locations around the country today, as part of the national Klimaatalarm (Climate Alarm) campaign. Annelieke Douma gave a short speech in Haarlem on the major role played by the Netherlands in climate change and environmental degradation beyond our borders. She made a number of suggestions that would immediately make Dutch foreign policy a lot more climate-friendly. Below is the text of her speech.
News / 10 August 2021
As a response to the latest IPCC report, the directors of IUCN NL, Tropenbos International, Wetlands International, Both ENDS and the Institute for Environmental Security wrote an op-ed about the role nature policy can and should play in stopping climate change, which was published in Dutch in De Volkskrant of August 10, 2021. Below, you find the English translation of the article.