Warning signs for the Pantanal

02/03/1999

The World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal: the Pantanal in the 21st century. A conference in Washington, D.C., 26-28 February 1999, sponsored by the World University Federation, the University of Bridgeport (USA), the Sun Moon University, and the Washington Times Foundation, with speakers from the Ramsar Bureau, the Worldwatch Institute, Conservation International, UNEP, OAS, the World Bank, several universities, and the government of Brazil.

Warning signs for world’s biggest wetland

The Pantanal wetlands, located in sizable parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay and claimed by many to be the largest wetland in the world, is under serious threat. That was the firm consensus of a meeting of experts held in Washington, D.C., USA, 26-28 February. pantanal1.jpg (19710 bytes)The Pantanal is half the size of France and the meeting heard of warning signs and some disturbing impacts happening now which require urgent action.

The Deputy Secretary General of the Ramsar Convention, Bill Phillips, delivered the keynote opening address at the Conference and urged these three Contracting Parties to use the opportunity of the Ramsar COP7 in Costa Rica (May 1999) to meet to discuss cooperative management and also to draw attention to the issues requiring urgent action. Brazil and Paraguay have both designated parts of the Pantanal which lie within their respective jurisdictions as Wetlands of International Importance, but much of the area remains outside the Convention’s coverage.

The meeting also heard of substantial funds being mobilised by the GEF, World Bank, Inter-American Development Bank and others which will seek to address some of the current and emerging problems of the Pantanal and its river basin. While welcoming these projects, the experts expressed concern about the need to improve coordination of these efforts to ensure that integrated approaches are taken and vital resources are not wasted.

It was a clear conclusion of the meeting that the pressures on the Pantanal will continue to grow and that a framework for using its resources wisely is urgently needed. Ideally such a framework will be developed by the three countries in a coordinated fashion. In his keynote presentation, the Deputy Secretary General argued that if ever there was a time and place for the Ramsar Convention to be applied to the full extent to which it was intended, the Pantanal presents that challenge. "If we cannot implement wise use for the biggest wetland on the planet, then we need to seriously review our way of doing business" he said.

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