It’s almost six months to the day since I raised a glass to celebrate Pantanal Day. I’ve been lucky enough to get back out to Brazil to work directly with my Brazilian colleagues and have seen the work we are doing to safeguard this amazing wetland go from strength to strength. I wanted to share the latest exciting developments with you.
We had a positive start to the year when along with the key members of the Pantanal Pact Coordination Group, WWF Brazil had the opportunity to meet for the first time the new State Secretary of the Environment for Mato Grosso. A strategy to ensure long term commitment for the conservation efforts in the Pantanal headwaters is to secure support from governments, both the local municipalities and the Mato Grosso state. Ana Luiza Peterlini took office as Environment Secretary in October last year and it took almost four months for the team to secure time with her to present the work under the Pantanal Pact. Would it be worth the wait…?
Buy in from Mato Grosso’s Environment Secretary
Peterlini’s response to the presentation was probably more than we could have hoped for. She highlighted her concerns that environmental degradation was a major cause of the on-going water crisis in the Sao Paulo in the south east of Brazil. Similar degradation is extensive throughout Mato Grosso, triggered by widespread land change, relating to expanding communities and farming, as well as illegal deforestation. Together these changes contribute to widespread erosion around rivers and springs leading to increased soil, silt and pollution being introduced to the water sources. This ultimately brings about diminishing levels of water quality and quantity, the results of which are being seen today in Sao Paulo in the form of water rations. Peterlini sees this water crisis as a warning to the rest of Brazil and particularly Mato Grosso, acknowledging that “today we are rich with water, we are water producers and for that reason should prevent water shortages”.
Two days later I participated in a Pantanal Springs Coordination Group meeting in Barra do Bugres, one of the 25 municipalities we are hoping will sign the Pantanal Pact. As a direct result of the meeting with Peterlini she sent along two extra members of her team to participate. They contributed significantly to the discussions around raising awareness of the work in the region and the best next steps forward.
Water is life
It is clear that Peterlini understands the vital role that local water resources play for everyone, she said they “transcend environmental issues because they are strategic for human survival and for economic development, including areas like health, education, basic sanitation and the economy”. This comprehension is critical in the political arena in order for us to push forward the environmental agenda and ensure buy in to long term conservation commitments outside of the organisation.
Six weeks after the first meeting with the state government, I’d been back in our Woking office for at least three weeks and the momentum that seemed to start during my visit with the team in Brazil continued. Peterlini convened a meeting with all the other Mato Grosso state secretaries as well as the new state governor, specifically to allow my Brazilian colleagues to share the details of the Pantanal Pact. “It is very important that all the government discuss the importance of establishing the Pact in defence of the Pantanal headwaters as a state public policy”, she said.
It was in this meeting that the Mato Grosso state government declared its support to the programme of work. We are extremely happy for this support. As Glauco, Freshwater Coordinator in our Brazil office said “everyone wins!” From the outset he has maintained that for the programme to be sustainable it was crucial for the Mato Grosso government to take a leadership role in this work. “This commitment will serve as inspiration for the municipal governments to also take responsibility”, he said.
The first signatory to the Pact
Glauco’s words were spinning round my head when he told me that the first mayor had signed the Pantanal Pact. Mayor Julio César Florindo of Barra do Bugres said that participating in the pact “was not an option, rather a necessity and a priority; the water is our main resource, if we don’t look after it we will face shortages and we don’t want that for our children and grandchildren.” It is great to see a mayor with this long term vision.
By signing the Pantanal Pact Florindo is committing to some of the priorities identified and agreed by the participating organisations during the development process of the Pact. Specifically, he opted to;
- promote debates on successful experiences of sustainable businesses in productive and service areas
- plan the recovery of Permanent Preservation Areas (APPs) and recover two springs in the municipality
- seek political and financial mechanisms for environmental suitability of up to 10% of rural roads by 2020
Worth the wait?
Definitely! It feels like the solid groundwork and effort that has gone in to building up the momentum during the first couple of years developing the Pantanal Pact is really starting to pay off. These processes can be very slow in the making, but when they start to take hold, sometimes we are lucky enough to see the positive outcomes snowball. Let’s hope this is just the beginning of bigger and better things and the other 24 mayors will be inspired to declare their commitments to protecting the Pantanal headwaters too. Watch this space…
Get more information on what we’re doing to safeguard freshwater resources around the world within the HSBC Water Programme
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