Report on the
Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal
at the Closing Session, February 28, 1999
Conference Rapporteur, Dr. Thomas
Professor of International Studies,
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.
conference deliberations, numerous facets of the Conference theme were
explored and cogent observations were shared which merit reflection, dialogue,
Conference speakers recognized the ineffable, pristine beauty of the Pantanal
and its singular biodiversity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Thomas J. Ward
Professor of International Studies