Rapporteur's Report

Final Report on the

Second World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal

As Presented at the Closing Session, October 17, 1999
by Conference Rapporteur, Dr. Thomas J. Ward
Visiting Professor of International Studies, 
University of Bridgeport


Dr. Thomas Ward


The Second World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal took place in Washington, DC area from October 15-17, 1999.  Sponsored by the World University Foundation, Ecotrópica, the University of Bridgeport, Sun Moon University, the Washington Times Foundation and the Waterland Research Institute, the Conference gathered political leaders, scientists, researchers, academics, legal experts, entrepreneurs, conservationists, and other concerned individuals from thirty-four nations as well as representatives of numerous international, multilateral, regional, and non-governmental organizations.  

The Second Conference built upon the findings and proceedings of the First World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development which had taken place February 26-28, 1999 in Washington, DC.   If there was a particular characteristic of the First Conference, it was the fact that it provided participants with a greater understanding of “the big picture” of the Pantanal. Its focus , as might be expected, was essentially diagnostic. The First Conference recognized:  

1.  The Pantanal’s ineffable, pristine beauty and its singular biodiversity. 

2.  It observed that 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. 

3.  The Conference recognized the damage which had already occurred through sewage, mining, and irresponsible agricultural activity.  It was pointed out that at least 50 different species are already threatened in the Pantanal due to the effects of behaviors and practices in certain of the region's human settlements and commercial enterprises. 

4.  The Conference helped to clarify ways in which the problems within the Pantanal affect a broader ecosystem than the 200,000 square kilometers of the Pantanal itself. For example, damage done to the ecosystems of the Pantanal could have an adverse effect upon the water, flora, and fauna of the surrounding regions of the Paraguay and the Paraná 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. 

5.  To be effective in launching an initiative for preserving the Pantanal’s biodiversity will require the involvement of governments, businesses, municipalities, communities, citizens, and the media in the pursuit and realization of a concerted commitment to preservation. A sense of shared responsibility must be fostered.

The Action Plan of the First Conference included: 

1.  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.  

2.  The findings of the First Conference were to be reported by Dr. Swarts at other wetland-related Conferences. 

3.  It was recommended that the World University Federation sponsor another Pantanal-related conference to continue to engage the themes touched upon in the First World Conference.  

4.. It was recommended that this should be done in conjunction with onsite scientific research, aimed at better understanding the Pantanal's complex of ecosystems and preserving them. 

I believe that it is important to note here that the Pantanal website, the electronic journal, the sharing by Dr. Swarts of the Conference’s findings with other wetlands-related organzations, and the convening of a second Pantanal-related conference reflect the fact that Reverend Kwak, Dr. Alonso, and Dr. Swarts have implemented virtually all of the recommendations of the first Conference.  We can, therefore, feel satisfaction that progress has been made in the eight months since the First World Conference.   

This Second World Conference highlighted the need for additional research into both the scientific and the human dimension of the challenges facing the Pantanal.   The Conference helped to highlight the ostensible culprits in compromising the Pantanal complex of ecosystems.  These included:

1.  Introduction of alien plant and animal species
2.  Uncontrolled agricultural expansion
3.  Mining, particularly gold processing with mercury
4.  The continued illegal harvesting of endangered species
5.  Unplanned tourism
6.  Changes in hydrology

Divergent views at this Conference on the impact of cattle grazing, as well as differing views on the role which major landowners had or had not played in the preservation of the Pantanal brought to light the great need for further statistically based onsite research in the Pantanal. If there were frequently repeated foci in the Second Conference they included: 

1.  Recognition that the key challenge to the preservation of the Pantanal is to measure all development programs or projects through a prism which assesses the impact which any proposed new project will have upon the Pantanal’s hydrology.  It was pointed out that, in many though clearly not in all cases, a decline in the population of a particular plant or animal species can already be addressed, managed, and corrected.  However, the long-term well-being and the stability of the Pantanal’s complex of ecosystems can not be addressed should factors such as flood pulse and significant changes in water levels result due to the endorsement and implementation of inappropriate development projects. 

2.  There is the need for appreciation of the fact that environment has, by definition, a human component or a human face.  The Pantaneiros, like all citizens of our planet, have growing economic and social needs.  It is ecologically unsound to approach the problems of the Pantanal in such a way as to dismiss the reality of said needs.  

3.  Although megaprojects such as the Hydrovia may have been voided as comprehensive projects, the same projects could re-emerge in the form of piecemeal development projects in a given zone of the Pantanal, which could then precipitate additional projects in other parts of the region.  This would lead over time to an incremental realization of what had allegedly been proposed, and  prevented, on a more comprehensive plane. 

4.  The need was registered for more extensive and definitive data on the hydrology, fauna, and flora of the Pantanal.  Such efforts will play a central role in formulating an operating paradigm for assessing the impact of various natural occurrences and socioeconomic initiatives in the region.  The Pantanal cannot merely rely on, or attempt to implement, paradigms which have been designed for other ecosystems. 

 5.  There exists the need for stakeholders to develop a strategic plan to address the future of the Pantanal.  Such a strategic plan, however, cannot be based merely on an outsider’s perspective.  It must be sensitive to the problems and challenges faced by Pantaneiros and by the key nations of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay.  Issues such as regional history, and national sovereignty must be respected by all of those interested in contributing to this work.  As a next step, it would appear progress now needs to be made in identifying processes and methodologies to begin to tackle the following questions (some evident and some less evident) and implicit tasks, among others:

     A.  What can be done to engender greater scientific cooperation among the states in the region?  
B.  How can we succeed in promoting greater cooperation between multilateral organizations, federal, state, and local governments, and the private sector? 

C.  Can media and the arts somehow serve as better vehicles to apprize the public of the problems and to take certain accepted, immediate steps to address easily corrected problems? 

D.  How is it possible to foster in the general population what Dr. N’Dow referred to as a new literacy, which focuses on the ability to “read” or measure the impact of our actions upon the ecosystem?  How should we proceed?

E.  Is it appropriate, as suggested, to consider the creation of an annual State of the Pantanal Report? 

F. It was pointed out that there is a continuing need to involve representatives of the great religious traditions.  The problems facing the Pantanal should not be seen as only being material in nature; they also have profound spiritual implications.  Religious themes such as “stewardship” directly relate to inherent moral questions of ecology.   Religious organizations need to be encouraged to participate more extensively in the discussions aimed at addressing and assessing challenges and opportunities in the Pantanal.  The question becomes:  “How can they best be engaged?”
G.  The youth must necessarily be involved in efforts aimed at preserving the Pantanal. The coming generation needs to be educated about the importance of the preservation of the region.  Youth’s enthusiasm and energy can be expected to contribute tremendous impetus to the projects aimed at preservation and sustainable development.. To involve the youth there is the need for additional educational efforts and this implies the development of appropriate and comprehensive curriculum on the Pantanal’s complex of ecosystems. 

The Pantanal, as we are all aware, is located in the three South American nations of Brazil, Bolivia, and Paraguay.  This Conference was fortunate to have excellent spokesperson and important players from each of these countries.  Bolivia also was singled out for having taken some of the most important steps to assure that the Bolivian portion of the Pantanal be protected from unwise and undisciplined exploitation of resources of the region, particularly through the creation of national parks and reserves in the Pantanal.  Debt buyback or debt forgiveness in exchange for the protection of certain territories was cited several times as one creative means for securing more protected lands.  It was noted that NGO’s such as Ecoptropica had taken important steps in land acquisition with the express purpose of protecting the Pantanal. Nevertheless, there was a feeling that, while this is highly commendable, the need exists for greater involvement and cooperation among NGOs in the pursuit of said initiatives.

While numerous legal remedies already exist to address the violations of the integrity of the Pantanal, it was noted at this Conference that they frequently fail to be effectively enforced.  Also, the very limited number of officers to enforce existing legislation was pointed out.  It was felt that legal remedies would be insufficient if education had not been provided on the importance of protecting the ecosystem.  

It was also noted that this failure is partially due to the fact that those responsible for enforcement have not been provided the needed instruments and equipment to facilitate enforcement.  There is, for example, the need to be able to measure environmental damages if we are to speak of instituting indemnity to compensate for violations. 

To conclude, the Second World Conference built upon the themes of the previous Conference and clearly represented a transitional point from merely defining problems and challenges.  It anticipated, as Honorary Conference Chair Dr. Marcelo Alonso and Conference Chair Dr. Noel Brown both observed, the need to move next towards the creation of a strategic plan aimed at addressing the themes of preservation, conservation, and sustainable development in the Pantanal.  The attention given to the Pantanal vis-a-vis other systems which had already been ecologically mismanaged, such as the Everglades, provided participants valuable comparative analyses for such an endeavor.  Exploration of themes such as ecotourism also deserve further consideration, because of their potential to assist in alleviating the human side of the Pantanal challenge.  As we have seen, efforts necessarily must include, yet also transcend, particular disciplines and fields of academic and practical inquiry.  

 The Second World Conference provided an orientation on the nature and current and future role of the Pantanal.  Through presentations, slides, and other audio-visual aides, we were reminded of the Pantanal’s singularly rich array of flora and fauna.  This reinforced the importance of this and other conferences’ and organizations’ efforts aimed at identifying, formulating, and ultimately acting upon the needed elements and instruments which can allow the Pantanal and Pantaneiros themselves to prosper, in the context of a healthy, intact ecosystem. 

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