Journey of Water in the Pantanal | WWF
Journey of Water in the Pantanal

Posted on 05 March 2018

Water does not spring from a tap: WWF initiative will highlight threats to world's largest wetland
Brazil’s water sources need to be protected, restored and valued for the good of the country, its people and its nature. This is the key message of the 2018 Journey of Water from March 5th-9th along the Paraguay River in the Pantanal – the world’s largest wetland, which faces serious threats.

Launched in South Africa in 2013, the Journey of Water aims to raise awareness about the long and winding route water takes from source to tap – and the many threats that water sources and rivers now face.

For the Brazilian edition, a group of celebrities, conservationists, journalists and a famous cartoon character will follow a stretch of the Paraguay River on foot, on water and by car, travelling through one of Brazil’s most majestic landscapes. The group will meet with local communities, authorities and experts as they learn about the problems threatening the Pantanal and its waters, and the importance of this resource for animals and plants as well as for millions of people downstream and for sustainable development in the region.

WWF Brazil wants to alert people to the fact that water does not simply “spring” from their taps, but comes from our rivers and that human activity can severely affect the quality and quantity of the water that is available to us, and for this reason it is vital that we conserve it.

Known as the “Kingdom of Waters”, the Pantanal spans 171,000 km2 in Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. During the rainy season from April to September, 80 percent of the region is flooded as 180 million litres of water per day flow down from the Pantanal’s headwaters in the tableland region of the Upper Paraguay River Basin.

This annual cycle support an extraordinary diversity of plants and animals, with over 4,000 species in total, including 656 types of tree, 325 species of fish, 159 mammals, 98 reptiles and 53 amphibians. The Pantanal also directly influences the climatic balance and air humidity, and conserves the region’s biodiversity and soil. And supports cowboys, rural communities and cities downstream.

But the Pantanal is under threat, principally from the expansion of soy, sugarcane and timber plantations, soil erosion and the construction of poorly planned infrastructure, including dams and navigation channels. Cattle raising, which was traditionally sustainable in the region, is now extensive and causing widespread damage to this sensitive ecosystem.

As a result, 38 percent of the Upper Paraguay River Basin has already been transformed, and if a protection plan is not put in place or new protected areas are not created, the Pantanal could suffer irreparable damage in the coming years – threatening the nature and people who rely on it.

A study carried out in 2017 by WWF-Brazil revealed that just 55 percent of the Pantanal’s headwaters region is preserved. Coupled with the fact that only 3.19 percent of the Pantanal as a whole is protected, it shows how vulnerable the area is and how urgently new conservation areas must be established.

WWF has carried out joint conservation actions in Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia with the intention of reducing the impact of human activity by promoting the protection of aquatic ecosystems, the development of best productive practices, systematic land use planning and the responsible consumption habits.

WWF also helps to conserve springs and rivers through its Pantanal Headwaters Pact, which is an alliance between the public and private sectors and civil society. With the support of partners, including HSBC, the Pact has already achieved significant results, including restoring over 80 springs, developing over 160km of environmentally sensitive rural roads, implementing water conservation activities with the support of 25 municipal governments in the state of Mato Grosso, and mobilising hundreds of volunteers.

But much more needs to be done.

In particular, the long-delayed Pantanal Law that is currently being debated by the Brazilian Senate’s Environment Committee needs to be refined – and then passed. The current text does include some key issues, such as provisions that the use of natural resources in the region should be governed by the principles of “polluter-payer” and “user-payer”, the obligation of the state to implement basic sanitation and solid waste management services in the river basins of the Pantanal, the creation of Economic Ecological Zoning guidelines for infrastructure projects, and the establishment of a fund to encourage conservation initiatives in the region.

But the legislation needs to include the headwaters region in the Upper Paraguay River Basin as a protected area to help tackle the deforestation threatening the springs and water recharges zones. If this does not happen, efforts to conserve the Pantanal – limited to just the Pantanal floodplain in the current wording of the law – will be destined to fail.

The Journey of Water aims to help spread these messages and build momentum for the long term protection and sustainable development of the Pantanal region.
Journey of Water in the Pantanal in Brazil
© WWF-Brazil
Map of the Journey of Water in the Pantanal, Brazil
© WWF-Brazil
Journey of Water in the Pantanal, Brazil
© WWF-Brazil
Pantanal is the largest wetland in the world
© WWF-Brazil