Rapporteur's Report

Final Report on the

World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal

Presented at the Closing Session, February 28, 1999
by Conference Rapporteur, Dr. Thomas J. Ward
Visiting Professor of International Studies, 
University of Bridgeport



Dr. Thomas Ward


In Washington, D.C. from February 26-28, 1999 representatives of governmental, intergovernmental, and non-governmental organizations, as well as academics, entrepreneurs, researchers, environmentalists and other concerned parties gathered as participants in the first World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal. The Conference was jointly sponsored by the World University Federation, the University of Bridgeport, Sun Moon University, and the Washington Times Foundation. The selection of Conference themes and topics was delegated to the Waterland Research Institute. The 120 participants in the Conference represented 41 different nations. Speakers addressed the problems of the Pantanal from a multi-and at times an interdisciplinary perspective. What concerned those in attendance was a desire and commitment to protect and to bequeath an ecologically intact Pantanal to future generations. As the Conference proceeded, it became evident that this region and aspects of its complex of ecosystems face challenges, which require a timely response. 

Through conference deliberations, numerous facets of the Conference theme were explored and cogent observations were shared which merit reflection, dialogue, and follow-up. 

The Conference speakers recognized the ineffable, pristine beauty of the Pantanal and its singular biodiversity. 

Yet the Pantanal's complex of ecosystems will not be maintained if socioeconomic development is indifferent to the requirements of the region's delicately balanced ecosystems. In addition to identifying potential threats to the region's biomass, the conference reviewed the specific impact which sewage, mining, and irresponsible agricultural activity had already had upon parts of the Pantanal. At least 50 different species are already threatened due to the effects of behaviors and practices in certain of the region's human settlements and commercial enterprises. 

The Conference was precedent-setting because of the extent to which deliberations included the perspectives of experts and functionaries from each of the key Pantanal players: Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay. 

The Conference helped to clarify ways in which the problems of the Pantanal affect a broader ecosystem than the 200,000 square kilometers of the Pantanal itself. Damage done to the ecosystems of the Pantanal today will affect Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, six months from now. Any problems of the Pantanal, could have an adverse effect upon the water, flora, and fauna of the surrounding regions of the Paraguay and the Parana River systems and basins and could eventually affect the La Plata River basin and Buenos Aires. Ultimately, decisions made regarding the management of the Pantanal ecosystems can impact upon the lives of some 100,000,000 citizens of Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina. 

The broad representation of multilateral organizations such as Ramsar and the World Bank, and the presence of representatives from the Organization of American States, and the United Nations itself and related NGO's lends credence to the reality that what transpires in the Pantanal not only directly impacts upon the Southern Cone, but it likewise has implications for this hemisphere and for the globe. 

From the opening session, it was emphasized that there is the need now to pursue integrated, transnational strategies and action plans so that it will not be necessary to conduct a conference some decades in the future on the topic: "Is it too late to save the Pantanal?." 

Now is the time to advance a coordinated effort committed to preserving the biodiversity of the region's complex of ecosystems. To be effective it will be necessary to involve governments, businesses, municipalities, communities, citizens, and the media in the pursuit and realization of such commitments to preservation. A sense of shared responsibility must be fostered. 

This naturally implies an educational effort. There is a need to stress the importance of thinking "long-term" in making decisions about the Pantanal, a need to compare the value of preserving the wetlands vis-a-vis any proposed development plan with short-term economic benefit but potentially colossal long-term costs, as has been the case for the Florida Everglades. 

The Conference brought to home the potential ecological price including the human cost of deferring questions on the preservation of the Pantanal. Participants were graphically apprised of the linkage between policy decisions leading to the draining of wetlands and/or deforestation in China's Yangtze Valley, and in Central America. Such measures accounted for the lack of the necessary mitigating natural conditions to retard flooding in the case of China , and Hurricane Mitch in the case of Nicaragua and Honduras. Both of these tragedies resulted in the loss of thousands of lives, indeed tens of thousands of lives in the case of China. 

The Pantanal should not go the way of the Florida Everglades where, due to a short-sighted policy of treating wetlands as wastelands, billions of dollars are now being expended to recoup even a portion of a blemished national treasure. The Conference deliberations also considered the case of the Republic of Korea, where, again, economic development took priority over the preservation of Wetlands. Today when a linkage has been established between development-driven policies and a drastic reduction in the productivity of Korea's commercial fishing industry, it becomes evident that Korea is paying "very dearly" for past mistakes today. The aforementioned unfortunate examples are case studies or the bases for case studies, which clearly have implications for the Pantanal. 

The Conference, because of its international scope, provided us with an opportunity to appreciate the implications of multilateral accords such as the Ramsar Convention of 1971 and of the work of UNEP. It also reviewed some of the legal measures which have been taken in the case of Brazil to protect the Pantanal and some of the research and planning efforts in each of the countries in which the Pantanal is situated. Conference speakers also elaborated on coordinated preservation efforts already developing between Brazil and Bolivia and between Brazil and Paraguay. 

Participants were also encouraged by being briefed by a World Bank representative on how the evolution and progression of ecological consciousness of the World Bank has resulted in a growing linkage between that institution's lending policies and economic projects designed to protect ecosystems and indigenous biodiversity. Clearly the model favored for the 21st century should be the development of economies which will be based upon renewable energy and the utilization of alternative energy sources, including solar and wind energy.

"Sustainable development" is a complex issue. "Environment" itself is a human concept encompassing human beings and necessarily including an intrinsic economic and social dimension as well as desire to improve the human condition. It is not easy to freeze development. Outsiders need to respect national sovereignty and understand that developing and or emerging market nations need a grace period to be fully compliant with the ecological guidelines which have been promoted and codified. 

The issues raised by the World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal are ongoing ones and thus dialogue and interaction on these issues must be ongoing as well. The Conference Chair Dr. Marcelo Alonso and the Conference Secretary General Dr. Frederick A. Swarts suggested that dialogue could be promoted and maintained through postings on a Pantanal website, and the possible development of an electronic journal on the Pantanal was also explored. Through the sponsoring organization of the World University Federation, it seemed worthwhile to explore convening other Pantanal-related conferences. This should be done in conjunction with onsite scientific research, aimed at better understanding the Pantanal's complex of ecosystems and preserving them.

Submitted by: 
Dr. Thomas J. Ward
Visiting Professor of International Studies 
University of Bridgeport 
Conference Rapporteur