Under the $165 million plan announced on 7 December, the total area protected will increase from 2,000 square miles (5,000 sq kms)| to approximately 8,000 square miles (20,500 sq km)- an area the size of Wales – the water quality of principal rivers will be substantially increased and fish stocks guaranteed. The loan will also boost sustainable activities, with aquaculture production rising from 8,850 to 13,275 tonnes and tourism growing by 50% compared with present levels. Half of the money has been provided by a loan from the Inter-American Development Bank, which helps accelerate economic and social development in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the other half by Brazilian governmental bodies.

The programme will be carried out by Brazil’s Ministry of the Environment together with the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (IBAMA) and the environmental authorities of the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul, home to the huge wetland. The Pantanal, located near the geographic centre of South America, 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.

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 and fish populations are declining. Additionally, until now, only about 1% of the land in the Upper Paraguay Basin is under state or federal protection, one tenth the amount recommended by international standards.

Additional problems are caused by recreational activities. Sport fishing in 1998 was responsible for landings of 86% 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 new programme will encourage local residents and civil society organisations 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, Tuazon said.

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 sustainable jobs for 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 eco-tourism, and species will be reintroduced in depleted areas.

Both the tourism and agriculture sectors will be supported with a programme 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.

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