South American organisations are pushing back their boundaries
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.
Local nature and human rights organisations are proving indispensable in some countries now that governments are failing to respond effectively to the crisis. The humanitarian aid that these organisations offer remote communities is often the only support they receive.
The countries in the La Plata basin have different ways of dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. In Argentina and Paraguay, the governments responded quickly and seem to have the outbreak reasonably under control. In Bolivia, the reaction reflects the chaotic political situation caused by the sudden departure of president Evo Morales. In Santa Cruz, the epicentre of the outbreak and the economic centre of the country, the situation is out of control and the weak health system is in danger of collapsing.
The situation in Brazil is alarming, to say the least; the newspapers report daily on the rapidly rising number of deaths. President Bolsonaro is playing down the severity of the pandemic and is the only world leader, besides the dictators of Turkmenistan and Belarus, who denies that threat it poses. Organisations in the state of Mato Grosso, where the virus is spreading freely despite the low population density, say that people are living in fear of their lives. In remote areas like this, the rules are completely unclear because local and central governments are sending out conflicting messages.
In spite of the varying approaches, there is one painful similarity between these countries: COVID-19 is exacerbating social differences. Throughout the whole region of the basin, the crisis is hitting the poor the hardest. They work in the informal sector and cannot work from home. Remote communities very quickly had no access to basic services like water and health care, and have seen their food reserves dwindling quickly. Hunger made itself felt after only two weeks of lockdown. In some areas, the government provides a basic living benefit but, for people in remote communities it costs them as much to travel to the city and collect the benefit as the amount of the benefit itself.
In the meantime, governments continue to invest in projects that further erode the living environments of many of these people: upstream in the Pantanal wetland area, the construction of small dams continues unabated, as does the construction and expansion of controversial ports. That earlier led to resistance from local people, but now that they are preoccupied fulfilling their basic daily needs, governments seem to have a free hand.
Civil society organisations, cooperatives and women's groups are doing what they can to alleviate need. Hugo Olmedo of CODES in Paraguay tells us how the organisation's telephones have been red hot since the start of the lockdown. People are confined in remote areas and do not know what to do to survive. CODES has provided thousands of local communities with food, sanitation, new seed for their gardens and information on the outbreak.
In Brazil, too, civil society organisations have responded quickly. the 'Rede Pantaneiros' – a network of leaders from various communities in the Pantanal – are providing water, food and information.
This crisis is clearly illustrating the importance of flexible organisations that are close to local communities, especially in countries where government policy is not responding adequately to acute crisis. They are able to provide support more quickly and effectively than the government or international organisations. They are also very aware that not only short term aid is required, but that investments need to be made in sustainable and local food production to make local communities more self-sufficient.
Read more about this subject
In these times of worldwide lockdown all attention is focused on the care sector, on the sorrow of those who are losing their loved ones, on children getting home-schooling and the neighbour who can no longer go the supermarket herself. Politicians and civil servants are hard at work trying to control the COVID-19 crisis and the economic crisis it has caused.
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 / 19 May 2020
On Monday 11 May, at the government's request, the Advisory Council on International Affairs (AIV) published an emergency advisory report on how the Netherlands can make an effective contribution to the worldwide fight against the Corona virus. Together with companies, scientists and environmental, human rights and development organisations, Both ENDS is today presenting a response to this report, in which we make a number of suggestions for investing in countries and people with insufficient resources to tackle the crisis effectively.
News / 19 May 2020
Communities in the Niger Delta have been affected by air and water pollution due to Shell's activities for decades. This year, at Royal Dutch Shell's annual meeting, Kebetkache Women's Resource and Development Centre held Shell accountable for the consequences of their activities. Clean-up of oil spillages and ending gas flaring is becoming even more urgent in the fight against COVID-19, in which clean water is crucial to prevent the spread of the virus.
Blog / 7 July 2020By Eva Schmitz
Pernambuco, is in the extreme northeast of Brazil, is one of the country's poorest regions. One of the most important projects aimed at stimulating development in the state is the expansion of the deep-sea port of Suape, complete with an oil refinery and shipyards. The port covers an enormous area; at 13,500 hectares it is bigger than all the different sites of the port of Rotterdam together. Unfortunately, the port lies in the middle of an exceptional and vulnerable ecosystem of mangrove forests and Atlantic rainforest, which are under serious threat from the expansion. Furthermore, the livelihoods of the approximately 25,000 people living in the area are at risk. Most of these people are so called 'traditional communities' of artisanal fisher folk including a number of Quilombola communities whose inhabitants are descended from enslaved people who have lived in this lands for hundreds of years. The communities' fishing catch is visibly declining as a consequence of industrial pollution, the most serious case of which was the oil spill that badly affected the whole coast of Northeast Brazil at the end of last year.
Blog / 13 May 2020
You can't eat gold, copper and gas
"The virus is spreading quicker than the information" – that was the first we heard in the Netherlands about COVID-19 in many African countries and the measures they were taking to tackle it. While states of emergency were announced, borders were closed and we saw image after image of violent police and army responses, many people outside the big cities did not know that what was going on. When the situation became clearer, serious concerns arose about the consequences of the measures that had been taken: the informal economy coming to a standstill, food shortages and internal migration flows.
Blog / 5 May 2020
Today the Netherlands is celebrating freedom. Our freedom goes further than living in peace. We have the freedom to discuss policy to our hearts’ content on, for example, ending the lockdown on television, in the press and on social media. We can do that freely because we know that our rights to freedom of expression are well protected. But how different that is in countries where authoritarian leaders are grasping the crisis as an excuse to throw these rights out with the trash and rule with an iron hand.
Blog / 15 April 2020
After Dutch Minister of Finance Wopke Hoekstra had brought the fury of the Southern European countries down on his head on 26 March by blocking the European emergency fund, the Dutch were suddenly 'small-minded and selfish‘ (Parool) and we should ‘go on holiday somewhere else‘ (RTL News). The tone was set. The difficulties encountered in making agreements on support at European level contrast sharply with the speed with which the welcome support measures for employers, entrepreneurs and companies had been announced in the Netherlands two weeks earlier. We have learned nothing from our own past, while everyone benefits from greater priority for solidarity.
Blog / 13 April 2020
Since his previous government, prime minister Mark Rutte has wanted to create a green legacy with Invest-NL and Invest International, two new financial organisations. With the advent of the COVID-19 crisis, these organisations are more important than ever. Aiming to stimulate investment in sustainable and social projects, they will operate at a distance from the government so that they can act quickly and efficiently. With an initial budget of 2.5 billion euros, they will give financial support to companies active in sectors that the market avoids and which are at the heart of the transition. At Both ENDS, we see that as an essential step in closing the door for good on our old polluting lifestyle and putting sustainability at the centre of developments in the energy sector, in the organisation of our transport and mobility system, in how we produce our food and in the design of our cities.
Blog / 14 April 2020
The World Trade Organization (WTO) is often seen as an institution in crisis, powerless and no longer relevant, and especially after US president Donald Trump decided in 2019 to pull the plug on one of the WTO’s most important bodies (the one dealing with trade disputes). Now, more than 150 civil society organisations, networks and interest groups from around the world have signed an urgent letter to WTO Director General Roberto Azevedo, because they are seriously concerned about the state of affairs within the organization.
Blog / 16 April 2020
In this time of crisis-driven reflection we can read telling analyses of past and present on all sides which are being translated into agendas for action. Many of the analyses address issues like inequality, climate, the financial sector, health care, education and women’s rights. They talk about ‘what’ and much less about ‘who’ or ‘how’.But a different future can only be built together with everyone, young and old, men and women. This future will not simply happen to us; we ourselves have a hand in it. It is time for new faces around the table, with new voices. It is time for a new future.
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.
Blog / 16 June 2020
In September 2019, the streets of Jakarta were filled with angry demonstrators protesting against the Omnibus Employment Law. The law will ease the rules for mining, make it much more difficult to hold companies liable for criminal acts and severely restrict the power of the national anti-corruption committee. At the moment, such protests are completely impossible in Indonesia because of the COVID-19 crisis and the associated lockdown measures. And Indonesian people already had few other means of exerting influence on decision-making and legislative processes.
Blog / 30 April 2020
COVID-19is placing our economy under a magnifying glass. Now that a large part of global trade has come to a standstill, the tension between international economic activity and local well-being is becoming more visible. That is very clear in northern Mozambique, where one of the world’s largest gas fields was discovered in 2011. Dutch companies are investing in the processing and transport of the gas.
Publication / 2 December 2014
Blog / 20 May 2020
'Comfortably staying home with the family': three women in Latin American villages about the Covid-19 crisis
"The Covid-19 crisis is affecting everyone, but in different ways. In some countries, people are feeling the consequences less than in others, in cities the problems are completely different to in the countryside, and men are suffering from the restrictions totally differently to women. Some of the organisations that we work with in Latin America talked to rural women about the effects of the crisis on their everyday lives and what they are doing to keep their heads above water. Below is a small selection from these conversations (freely translated from Spanish) to give some idea of the situation women in remote areas are finding themselves in, of the enormous solidarity they are experiencing and of the solutions, which largely lie in stimulating local food production." - Danielle Hirsch
Blog / 12 May 2020
Post-corona economy: five recommendations for the Dutch government on achieving the SDGs and the goals of the climate agreement
By Daniëlle Hirsch and Maria van der Heijden
The social debate on the Netherlands' role in the global economic crisis is now in full swing. At the centre of the debate is the question: how can we compensate for the setbacks affecting the Dutch economy without losing sight of efforts to make international trade and production chains more sustainable? We – Both ENDS and MVO Nederland (CSR Netherlands) – are particularly concerned about what we hear in these discussions about human rights, climate and the environment. That these are 'luxury problems' which we have no time to address at this time of crisis. And this, while the Corona crisis is showing us just how closely our current economy is irrevocably intertwined with the pollution of the planet and is making people all around the world more and more vulnerable. In short, we have to make our economy more resilient to such shocks. And that means committing ourselves to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the goals of the Paris climate agreement. We therefore address ourselves first and foremost to the government.
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 / 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.
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."