A plan to ensure long-term protection for Brazil's threatened Pantanal, the world's largest wetlands complex, will be financed with the help of an $82.5 million loan from the Inter-American Development Bank.
The loan, which was approved by the Bank's Board of Executive Directors, will support the first stage of an eight-year program consisting of measures to strengthen local government institutions as well as research, monitoring, planning, land protection, new productive activities, and public works.
"This was a difficult, pioneering, and complex project that does credit to our institution," said IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias. He stressed the importance of consultations that preceded the project and the mobilization of public opinion in defense of the environment.
The loan is the first approved by the IDB from the single currency facility in euros.
After the completion of the two-stage program, water quality of principal rivers will be substantially improved, and new regulations will have enabled species of the principal commercial fish to stabilize or increase. In addition, the area of the protected watershed will increase to 2 million hectares from 0.5 million hectares. Sustainable activities will increase, with aquaculture production rising from 8,850 to 13,275 tons and tourism growing by 50 percent compared with the present.
The program will be carried out by Brazil's Ministry of the Environment* together with the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources and the environmental authorities of the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.
The Pantanal, located near the geographic center of South America, is a vast area that includes ten large rivers, their deltas, and thousands of lakes and salt pans. Its ecosystems provide habitats for more than 650 species of birds, 400 species of fish, and a great diversity of other forms of animals and plants. The Pantanal watershed, which drains into the Paraguay River, is also the home for 1.8 million people in the Brazilian states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul.
The Pantanal ecosystems and many of their species are facing increasing threats. The quality of the water entering the wetlands is carrying higher loads of sediment, as well as agrochemicals, industrial wastes, and domestic effluents. Fish populations are declining, and fishermen are maintaining the same harvest only by expending considerably greater effort.
Only about 1 percent of the land in the Upper Paraguay Basin is under state or federal protection, versus the one tenth recommended by international standards.
Local inhabitants are also under increasing pressure. The small landholdings of indigenous people in the area are becoming degraded, hastening a process of cultural erosion. Likewise, the traditional Pantanal ranchers are beginning to abandon their land in part because environmental problems, such as increased flooding and drowning of cattle, are cutting into their profits.
Additional problems are caused by recreational activities. Sport fishing in 1998 was responsible for landings of over 86 percent of catch weight, a level that is not sustainable. Tourists disturb bird colonies, and motorboats produce noise and pollution as well as wave action that erodes narrow channels.
The IDB-financed program will encourage local residents and civil society organizations to participate in environmental protection activities. "Environmental quality is ultimately demand-driven, and depends on individual people and businesses to voluntarily comply with environmental laws and adopt sustainable practices," according to Raul Tuazon, an IDB environmental specialist.
Through improved availability of information, including data from program monitoring, local people will have the information and tools they need to balance competing uses of natural resources within the basin and to create a workable system of regulations and safeguards, he said.
Public participation in the program began four years ago with a series of hearings, meetings, and workshops to guide initial design work. After the program is launched, citizen participation will be institutionalized with the creation of watershed committees made up of local stakeholders to help design plans and regulations.
A major program focus will be management of water resources, including monitoring of water quality, assigning water rights and charging for them, and supporting the work of the watershed committees and state environmental management units. In addition, watershed management plans will be drawn up, green zones along watercourses will be established, and soil management measures will be undertaken to reduce erosion.
The problem of sewage pollution will be addressed by a series of sanitation works slated for nine cities as well as by measures to improve the efficiency and maintenance capability of local sanitation authorities.
Measures to protect ecosystems and conserve resources will include financing for four federal protected areas and four state parks. Restrictions will be placed on fishing and boating in areas designated as fish reserves, and the numbers of enforcement officers and fire fighters will be increased.
Additional projects will help to provide new economic activities for the local residents that do not adversely affect the Pantanal environment. In the area of fisheries, research will be carried out on the principal commercial species, which will result in better regulations to ensure sustainable production. Training will be provided in aquaculture, and species will be reintroduced in depleted areas.
The program will finance a master plan for ecotourism, which will be supported with workshops and educational campaigns as well as equipment for the two state tourism authorities.
New agricultural activities in the Pantanal will boost income for producers while protecting the environment. Improved cattle raising techniques will be promoted, as well as the possible environmental certification of Pantanal beef. Demonstration projects will be carried out for the commercial production of several wildlife species, including the capybara, the world's largest rodent, and the ostrich-like rhea.
Both the tourism and agriculture sectors will be supported with a program to improve roads to provide all-year access to parks and provide evacuation routes for cattle during flood season. The roads will include parkways with buffer zones in which development will be restricted or prohibited.
Finally, the program includes a series of measures to promote sustainable land use on the lands of indigenous communities, such as restoration of forests and streamside vegetation, reintroduction of traditional crops, and new productive activities.
The total cost of the first phase of the program is estimated at $165 million. Local counterpart funds total $82.5 million.
The IDB loan is for a 20-year term, with a four-year grace period, at the variable interest rate for loans in euros, now 6.13 percent.