World Wetlands Day 2003: Paraguay


World Wetlands Day in the Paraguayan Chaco: No wetlands, no water!

People of the Chaco consider this year's drought to be by far one of the worst, and in the middle of what is usually the rainy season, there is still no sign of those highly anticipated and alleviating drops, whose absence grows heavier with each day. This semi-arid region of the Chaco is little known in the world, which enables it to safely guard beautiful lagoons of fresh, salt and brackish waters hidden away amongst the spiny forests and shrub of the area. Water is life in the Chaco, and here the theme resonates clearly: "No wetlands, no water!" These precious lagoons are host to a rich diversity of fauna, with striking congregations of migratory birds of international importance like flamingoes and large mammals such as the jaguar.

The Foundation for the Sustainable Development of the South American Chaco (DeSdel Chaco) from its beginning has worked towards the conservation of the natural resources of the region with a special focus on the Central Lagoons Landscape, working with Mennonite, Latino-Paraguayan and indigenous stakeholders, in and around the historic Menno Colony established in 1927. In spite of the challenges this year's drought has brought, the people of the area continue the struggle to demonstrate the ecological and cultural value of the lagoons of the Riacho Yakaré Sur watershed. The stakeholders are raising their level of awareness of the need for wise use initiatives in wetlands currently threatened by salinization and cattle raising.

To commemorate World Wetlands Day and the UN International Year of Freshwater the following CEPA activities are being organized:

On the 2nd of February there will be an interview with Wilfried Giesbrecht, Executive Director of DeSdel Chaco, which will be broadcast in German on the radio station ZP30. The purpose of this interview is to highlight the current state of the Central Chaco lagoons landscape in light of World Wetlands Day.

Three months ago, CEPA activities were initiated for the wise use of wetlands in the Central Chaco lagoons landscape through community workshops organized and carried out by DeSdel Chaco, the "Grupo Yakaré Sur" committee, and village stakeholders. The dialogue over concerns and the results of these workshops were published in local newspapers such as the Menno Informiert. Attached is a copy of the World Wetlands day issue of the Menno Informeirt, in German.

Since school does not officially start this year until after the 24th of February, a series of school visits will be scheduled to be conducted by DeSdel Chaco's CEPA team. Activities to be carried out include interpretive talks about water (National Water day is March 22) and wetland values, and wetlands posters will be distributed highlighting Chaco wetlands, the Ramsar Convention and celebrating the International Year of Freshwater.

"No wetlands, no water!"
Commemorating World Wetlands Day with the Riacho Yakaré Sur Group: Looking at Wetlands Wise Use in the Farming Communities of the Saltwater Lagoons of the Chaco.

The Foundation for the Sustainable Development of the South American Chaco (DeSdel Chaco) has been encouraging environmental action and raising public awareness about wetlands values, focusing on the Ramsar Convention. The lack of water in the Chaco is a serious subject that impacts the lives of everyone in the region, particularly this year with a prolonged drought. In this semi-arid region, the saltwater lagoons landscape of the RiachoYakaré Sur watershed is undoubtedly important as it comprises 8% of the Paraguayan Chaco (Gragson, 2002). Mennonite stakeholders of the area are stressing the importance of the future wise use of these natural resources, studying production alternatives to cattle ranching and hoping to increase the quality of life.

The creation of the Riacho Yakaré Sur Group was the outcome of two days of community workshops in Campo León and Laguna Capitan. This new committee, comprised of area stakeholders, was elected by the communities that DeSdel Chaco continually supports by moderating their meetings and roundtable discussions. The Grupo Riacho Yakaré Sur has assigned itself the task of designing and implementing a study to compare the impacts of different kinds of educational tourism in reducing the impacts of poaching, litter, and uncontrolled traffic. They envision utilizing different strategies to achieve the conservation of the natural resources and are lobbying for the drafting of regulations this month to control visitor entry and impacts on the lagoons landscape.

Campo Maria, its neighbor Chaco Lodge, and Laguna Capitán are widely recognized as a priority sites for conservation as they represent a transition zone between the dry and humid Chaco ecosystems with a high diversity of fauna, (in particular shorebirds) and flora found no where else in the world (Gragson 2002). It is for this reason that DeSdel Chaco recently accompanied a survey visit to update the SINASIP (National System for Natural Protected Areas), a national strategic plan for protected areas, conducted by the Environmental Secretariat (SEAM), Ramsar Administrative Authority of Paraguay.

DeSdel Chaco receives support from the Ramsar Wetlands for the Future Fund, The Nature Conservancy, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and USAID.

Francesca de Cabrera
CEPA programs
Fundación para el Desarrollo
Sustentable del Chaco

Chaco Lodge: Foto área de la laguna de Chaco Lodge, lugar de rica biodiversidad en la cuenca del Riacho Yakaré Sur. An aerial shot taken of the lagoon at Chaco Lodge, rich in diversity located in the Riacho Yakare Sur watershed.

Comite and accion: Participantes en el taller comunitario de Lagunas Saladas redactando preguntas contestables sobre su entorno. Community workshop participants are writing up answerable questions about their saltwater lagoons environment.

Parcelitas: Participantes del taller reflexionan sobre una pequeña parcela y practican haciendo observaciones. Workshop participants are reflecting over a small plot to practice gathering observations.

Pozo Amarillo: Efectos de la salinización de la cuenca en Pozo Amarillo. Results of the salinization of the watershed taken at Pozo Amarillo.

Tapirs: Los tapires tanto como las aves dependen del agua de las lagunas. The tapirs just as the birds need the saltwater lagoons too. Foto.: Ewald Friesen

Flamencos: Las lagunas saladas del Chaco son el único lugar del Paraguay donde anidan los flamencos. The only place in Paraguay where the flamingoes nest is in the Saltwater Lagoons of the Chaco. Foto: Ewald Friesen

Jaibiru stork: Foto: Wilbert Fehr

Ducks: Conagregaciones de aves playeras de importancia internacional han sido documentadas en las Lagunas saldas del Chaco. Shorebirds congregations of international importance have been documented in the saltwater lagoons of the Chaco. Foto: Ewald Friesen.

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