News / 6 May 2021

In Memoriam: Elias Dias Peña (Sobrevivencia)

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.

Elias was the kindest and friendliest person. He has also lived his entire life for the protection of the natural wonders of this world and had an incredible amount of expertise and knowledge about the South American continent's geography, hydrology, its people and their cultures. His absence will leave a gaping hole in all of our work.

Just like the rivers Elias had dedicated to protect, he was himself like a stream, filled with deep wisdom, gentle laughter and a human presence which will never be forgotten by any who had the privilege of knowing him.

We send our heartfelt condolences to Elias' family and friends, and especially Oscar and the whole team of Sobrevivencia in this sad time.

In the name of all of us at Both ENDS,

Tamara Mohr and Eva Schmitz

Memories of Elias

Tamara Mohr, who has known Elias since 1991, below shares some of the countless memories she has of him.

On the 5th of May 2021 my dear friend Elias Dias Peña (Papo) from our partner organization Sobrevivencia in Paraguay passed away unexpectedly. We first met in 1991, when I had just started as a volunteer at Both ENDS. He passed by Amsterdam from Paris where he contributed to the Agenda Ya Wananchi, in preparation of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 where we met again.

Together with Oscar Rivas from Sobrevivencia they introduced me to Paraguay, the country that became my favorite. It was the start of 30 years of joint work, joint visions, and many adventures. I will share a few but surely treasure all the others. I mostly admire Elias for his kindness and the impressively calm way he practiced his activism. His convincing power was based on his incredible knowledge of the hydrology of the region he was so passionately defending, the Paraguay-Paraná Delta in South America.

I had the privilege to learn from his explanations about the value and functioning of this unique ecosystem - or rather wetland system. In dozens of talks he shared his knowledge in settings ranging from high-level meetings of the World Commission on Dams, to meetings with our network partners such as the former Rios Vivos Coalition or our most recent joint program Wetlands without Border. And best of all, sitting under a tree exchanging with indigenous communities along the Paraguay River, although that would be in Guarani and more difficult for me to follow. But above all, he helped me understand and admire this wetland ecosystem through informal talks during our days to weeks long boat trips over the Paraguay River crossing in total all the way from Cáceres in Brazil to Asunción in Paraguay.

Besides water, he was equally passionate about plants and a member of the International Analogue Forestry Network, practicing Analog Forestry in Sobrevivencia's farms in the Paraguayan countryside. He and Oscar also did wonders with their home garden in Asunción that they transformed into an impressive and amazingly cool urban mini jungle.

I will miss Elias immensely, as a working partner and above all as a dear friend. But I am convinced that his passion to preserve the Paraguay-Paraná wetland system will continue through all the people and networks he inspired with such calm perseverance.


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