Report on the
World Conference on Preservation and Sustainable Development in the Pantanal
Presented at the Closing Session, October 17, 1999
Conference Rapporteur, Dr. Thomas
Professor of International Studies,
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
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:
The Pantanal’s ineffable, pristine beauty and its singular biodiversity.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Action Plan of the First Conference included:
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.
The findings of the First Conference were to be reported by Dr. Swarts
at other wetland-related Conferences.
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.
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.
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.
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
Introduction of alien plant and animal species
Uncontrolled agricultural expansion
Mining, particularly gold processing with mercury
The continued illegal harvesting of endangered species
Changes in hydrology
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
How can we succeed in promoting greater cooperation between multilateral
organizations, federal, state, and local governments, and the private sector?
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?
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?
Is it appropriate, as suggested, to consider the creation of an annual
State of the Pantanal Report?
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?”
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.