By Dr. M. Sommer
If wetlands are in danger, humanity is in danger. This requires decisive action from governments, communities, non-governmental organizations, organized groups, and citizens of the region.
February 2, 2003. Anniversary of the Wetlands. Without wetlands, there is no water!
Uroecopol (01.2003). The government of the Province of Mendoza (ARGENTINA), through resolution 190/2003, authorized Repsol-YPF (a Spanish company) to exploit the oil area of the Laguna Llancanelo wetland, in five of the eight wells foreseen by the project. The claims of environmental organizations, lawyers experts in environmental law and national and international scientists, were not enough to distort the firm decision of the government to approve the Repsol-Spain initiative, since the liquidation of royalties represents the most important contribution to the provincial budget, especially when in October of last year the province almost declared itself in "Default", receiving an aid of $ 30 million from the oil company to pay its most urgent debts. The Llancanelo Lagoon is an internationally recognized wetland by the RAMSAR convention in 1996, in addition to being a protected natural area in Argentina.
Uroecopol (01.2003). Province of Neuquén-Argentina, in the Loma de la Lata in the immense Patagonian desert is a gas and oil field, the most important in the country and one of the largest in Latin America, run by the Spanish company REPSOL. Mining resources are exploited in the same place where the Mapuche communities (people of the land) live. The groundwater is contaminated, the population complains of diseases caused by drinking from a water table in which the purge waters of the exploitation have been filtered. Today these settlers have lead and mercury in their blood. Oil pools have been plugged with soil rather than cleaned up, and anywhere there is so much oil on the surface that the ground itself can burn. When Repsol hides the pools, the oil spill is not in Galicia but in the Neuquén River, it does not appear in the media. Everywhere, oil exploitation causes environmental disasters, but in very few places in the world have such serious abuses been tolerated as in Neuquén-Argentina.
If wetlands are in danger, humanity is in danger. This requires decisive action by governments, communities, non-governmental organizations, organized groups, and citizens of the region.
The POVERTY of the majority and the excessive consumption of a minority contribute to the deterioration of wetlands in Latin America and the Caribbean. We live in a time of contradiction, in which wealth and technology on unprecedented scales are available to a few, while many suffer from crushing poverty. More than 800 million people live in extreme poverty in rural areas of the world. Those who depend directly on natural ecosystems, such as wetlands, for their livelihood are the rural poor and while there is no doubt that there is poverty in urban areas, the rural poor are the most vulnerable to degradation of natural resources. the ecosystems. It is no longer about catching up with the first world or the second, today it is more about not slipping into the fourth.
Within the framework of this reality, water is one of the main challenges for humanity. Life is intrinsically related to water. Most organisms live in water, and what they do not carry with them their own watery microenvironment. Human beings, like all other living organisms, are absolutely dependent on water.
The Laguna de Llancanelo wetland is recognized by the RAMSAR convention in 1996, in addition to being an area of Provincial Wildlife Reserve since 1980. The Llancanelo is an immense body of closed salt water (endorheic), and its maximum extension occupies an area of 65,000 hectares, resulting in a contrasting image with the surrounding desert. The ecosystem of this wetland is recognized as one of the most diverse on the planet within arid regions. More than 150 thousand birds of more than 150 species inhabit this wetland. You can admire flamingos, ducks, coots, taguas, macaes, black and white herons, peuguenes, bandurrios, cuervillas de la cañada, terns, royal teros, plovers and three varieties of swans: white-necked, cocoa and black-necked. In Argentina, more than 51 percent of birds and mammals are in danger. It is also one of the most important passageways for American migratory birds, receiving species from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego.
The Llancanelo Lagoon rests on a blanket of oil.
Wetland ecosystems are recognized as highly fragile and vulnerable; However, a large part of them in Argentina, as in other regions of the continent, have had the responsibility of directly or indirectly supporting various communities of different civilizations. The main benefits of wetlands can be ecological and economic, among them are the protection of habitats, the mitigation of coastal erosion, the capture of atmospheric CO2, the purification of effluents, the cushioning of impacts on infrastructure. socioeconomic due to extreme meteorological phenomena, the supply of water for consumption and economic activities, the recharge of groundwater and the collection of rainwater in urban and rural areas; They also have essential functions for life in general, by positively contributing to the quality of the waters, controlling floods, the stability of the coastline, serving as barriers and / or natural filter, between marine and terrestrial events, fundamentally with action protector of mangrove forests.
Our current overuse of freshwater resources and their projected increases pose serious threats - not just the continued maintenance and functioning of wetland ecosystems and their biological diversity, but to the very essence of human well-being.
Of the six billion people in the world, half do not have properly treated water; More than 2.3 billion people live near rivers where water is frequently scarce and 1.7 billion of them live in areas where water scarcity undermines local capacity for food production and economic development. Furthermore, at least 1.1 million people lack clean water and every year 3 million people, many of them children, die of diseases caused by contaminated water.
Wetlands are a vital component of the freshwater cycle, they are the providers of both quantity and quality of water, so keeping wetlands healthy ensures the supply of water.
The process of destruction of wetlands is accelerating beyond the projections that scientists have been warning for some years. Climate change, that is, global warming has terrible negative repercussions. This phenomenon, together with the fact that the planet is in a postglacial phase, causes the melting of polar ice and the consequent rise in sea level. This in turn causes flooding in shallow wetlands and the subsidence and disappearance of some mangrove species. It is incredible that the President of the United States himself refuses to sign the KYOTO protocol, which commits governments to reduce gas emissions, as the only possibility to curb global warming.
Agriculture is another major reason for the dramatic rate of disappearance of wetlands. Globally, 65 percent of all water taken from the earth is for agricultural purposes. Large-scale irrigated agriculture, supplied by groundwater or derived from river diversions, can be extremely wasteful and have long-term environmental impacts. The amount of water used for irrigation has increased 10 times in the last 100 years: 235 million hectares of land are under irrigation worldwide. In too many places, the volume of water withdrawn from natural underground aquifers greatly exceeds their ability to be refilled, millions of trees and plants die as a result of the drop in the groundwater level, deprived of the vital supply for their survival.
Wetland pollution is another growing concern, affecting drinking water sources and biological diversity. Drainage and runoff from fertilized crops introduce high concentrations of nitrogenous and phosphorous nutrients into water bodies.
Toxic pollutants, such as pesticides, are likely to be one of the most serious threats to wetland Biological Diversity and human well-being in the 21st century. But water pollution is not only related to chemicals. High concentrations of sediments, often resulting from the removal of vegetation cover in catchment areas - are equally damaging to aquatic species, particularly fish, insects and ciliary feeding organisms. Turbidity also prevents sunlight from filtering through the water column, preventing the growth of aquatic plants and algae, important sources of oxygen for other organisms.
The authorization of the government of Mendoza (Argentina) to the oil activity in Llancanelo, wetland Ramsar site, is a defeat against the legal, institutional, political, scientific, technical, organizational, economic and social resources for Argentina. This is a precedent that would encourage other countries in the world not to respect the international treaties for the conservation of wetlands. A highlight in the ministerial resolution is the creation of the so-called Llancanelo Environmental Management Unit. This Management Unit must carry out the administrative measurement of the reserve area and monitoring in the Llancanelo Reservoir aquifer, since in March 2001 high percentages of hydrocarbons were detected in one of the reserve's water wells. Studies have not been carried out and today the administrative procedure will continue.
Comprehensive approaches are most urgently needed in wetlands, where economic interests intersect and compete for the same resources from community heritage. The forms of integration required by integrated management have multiple dimensions. One dimension is the integration between resource management approaches and policy reforms; bottom-up and top-down, that is, the so-called tiered approach to integrated management. The tiered approach creates opportunities to bring different groups together to agree on wetland issues that require action, the causes of those issues, and shared management responsibilities.
A second dimension of integration is the combination of scientific knowledge with a good administrative regime. The management of complex ecosystems (wetlands) subject to significant human pressures cannot occur without the best information available, which includes findings from the biophysical and social sciences. The limnological and marine sciences allow characterizing problems over time and distinguishing between natural and human causes of environmental change. Research activities reveal how ecosystems (wetlands) react to variation and allow potential restoration techniques to be tested. Combined with the results of economic and social research, these efforts contribute to the development of innovative wetland management solutions.
A third aspect is the integration between the various sectors and disciplines. The complex overlapping of issues and institutions across wetlands makes it impossible for a single entity to address management challenges. Success lies in forging cooperative alliances between institutions, between user groups, and between programs, and those that provide technical assistance.
The tragedy of September 11, 2001 was a milestone of change for the world. Evidence, among other things, the economic drift of the continents: the deepening gap between rich and poor countries favors all extremisms, although it does not excuse them!
This situation in Argentina caused by oil exploitation (REPSOL-Spanish company) is not a simple technical problem. Its roots are philosophical and ideological. The idea we have of what man and nature are and of the relationship between the two; it is of decisive importance when it comes to understanding the deterioration of wetlands and seeking solutions for it. Nature has been oppressive and oppressive to man for millennia. It is true that from her he extracted his food and the resources he needed, but at the same time she was manifested as dangerous and capricious. Their life was threatened by wild beasts, their food depended on the vagaries of the weather, fires, earthquakes and other natural accidents devastated their homes and cities, plagues and other infectious diseases decimated the population ????? and all this without understand very well the forces that moved her, always dependent on whim and chance.
Man considers nature as a source of resources whose only function is to supply what man needs. It is the dominant point of view, in practice, in recent centuries.
Knowledge is the art of unconditionally mastering nature and it is considered that technological development will bring progress without more than waiting for it to grow.
Man is considered as a person, in the sense that he is biologically an animal, but his being is not exhausted there, but as a creature created by God in his image and likeness, he has a dignity radically superior to all other beings of the nature. His job is one of caring and diligent steward of nature. He does not have an uncontrolled hold on her. It must respect its laws, which man has not set, but have been given.
Man depends on nature, because he is inserted in it, and is at the same time its guardian due to his ability to project. In this context, it is understood that man is the only being who has duties and obligations with respect to nature and who is responsible for his actions against it.
If we look at the GAIA system through eyes other than our own, we will quickly see that we no longer have reasons to consider ourselves a way of life superior to the others.
* Dr. Sommer
e-mail: [email protected]