Community Involvement in La Plata River Basin


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Community Involvement in La Plata River Basin



Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

Severe flooding, with extensive damage to infrastructure and economic production, are frequent occurrences, especially in the Paraná and Uruguay sub-basins. Soil loss from agricultural areas and organic and chemical contamination stemming from agriculture and animal husbandry are also sources of pollution. Pollutants and heavy metals from mining operations and inadequately treated urban sewage are other causes of environmental concerns in the basin. Increased tourism is also leading to overfishing, damage to flora and fauna and the illegal exportation of endangered species. A large part of fertilizers and pesticides used in farming are also being carried by runoff into watercourses. This toxic pollution puts the populations that depend on the rivers’ productivity for their livelihoods at risk and threatens the biodiversity of the maritime front of the La Plata River.

Important economic crises at the beginning of this decade have affected all basin countries and had a negative impact on the success of poverty reduction strategies. People with low incomes often live in informal settlements established in marginal areas where safe water and sanitation infrastructure is either insufficient or non-existent, increasing the percentage of people suffering from diseases that stem from a lack of water and sanitation. Problems related to informal settlements in the region have aggravated in the last twenty years.

Moreover, biological contamination stemming from a lack of proper sanitation infrastructure and inadequate wastewater treatment facilities constitutes a severe problem in several urban and rural settlements in the basin. Consequently, occurrences of waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, malaria and dengue are quite common in certain regions. Other diseases of fewer occurrences are leptospirosis, leishmaniasis and yellow fever. Diarrhoea is by far the most common waterborne disease, affecting children especially. In 2003, in Argentina alone, over 900,000 people suffered from diarrhoea. In different zones of Argentina, among several other Latin American countries, the population also has to constantly utilize water resources with naturally high arsenic content, surpassing acceptable limits for drinking water standards. The industrial centres, although providing employment and contributing to the national GDP, are one of the main sources of pollution in the basin.

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

The La Plata Treaty, based on a basin-wide institutional framework, provides the foundation for such efforts towards the protection and integrated management of water resources and adaption to climate change and variability.

With the support of the World Bank, the Government of Brazil initiated the Pantanal Project in 1991. The resulting Plan for the Conservation of the Upper Paraguay River Basin (PCBAP, Plano de Conservação da Bacia do Alto Paraguai) employed an environmental zoning approach to delineate general and site-specific guidelines for the conservation, rehabilitation and preservation of degraded lands; created a geographic information system (GIS) to facilitate the dissemination of available physical, biological, social, legal and economic information; and proposed the operation of a real-time flood warning system.

Significant efforts are made to minimize or eliminate arsenic contamination in urban drinking water by chemical treatment. However, although low-cost methodologies for removal of arsenic at home level have been tested with success, some rural communities continue using groundwater resources that are contaminated with arsenic. Moreover, in order to curb industrial pollution, the five countries of the La Plata River Basin are drawing policy guidelines and implementing programmes for promoting cleaner industry. Furthermore, a joint project is currently under way to support The Guarani Aquifer System (GAS) countries in implementing a common institutional framework for managing and preserving the GAS. The project also aims to expand and consolidate the current knowledge base through monitoring and evaluating water resources, in order to promote stakeholder participation in decision making and control pollution.

With respect to surface water, the main concern is the sustainability of the resources in the long term. For this purpose, many bi- or multilateral projects are currently in progress. Some examples are the integrated management and master plan of the Pilcomayo River Basin (Argentina, Bolivia, and Paraguay) and the strategic action programme for the Bermejo River Binational Basin (Argentina and Bolivia). Through these projects, basin countries aim to promote better utilization of water and land resources while conserving and rehabilitating ecosystems. These projects also facilitate information exchange in addition to providing a basis for strengthening regional information systems.

Finally, the Coordinating Committee of the Countries of La Plata Basin (CIC) has a new ‘Program of Action’ and is preparing a Framework Programme, with the support of the Global Environment Facility (GEF), through the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Organization of American States (OAS), in order to implement the environmentally and socially sustainable economic development of the La Plata Basin, specifically by protecting and managing its water resources and adapting to climate change and variability.

Results and Impact

Due to a series of economic crises affecting the countries of the basin, rising poverty remains the most important social issue to be addressed. Given limited funds allocated, meeting safe water and sanitation needs of the people, and especially the poor, is a big challenge. As a result, water-borne diseases stemming from lack of water and sanitation continue to be among one of the major causes of morbidity in the basin. The basin is blessed with a rich array of wildlife and extensive ecosystems, however, rapid population growth, expanding industrial, agricultural and mining activities and large-scale hydraulic engineering have caused extensive environmental deterioration in the basin. Basin countries share the common vision of sustainable development through bilateral and multilateral cooperation in utilising the extensive surface and groundwater resources in an optimal fashion. For this purpose, many joint projects are currently in progress. Through these projects, basin countries aim to promote better utilisation of water and land resources while conserving and rehabilitating ecosystems.

It is recommended that an international legal framework for the management of transboundary groundwater resources currently does not exist, but should be devised in the near future, as transboundary groundwater management is vital in the La Plata Basin, since it is subject to water scarcity and fierce competition among users.

Sustainable water management and poverty reduction must be addressed simultaneously, in a form of IWRM. Moreover, additional funding sources should be sought, as limited funds continue to hinder efforts of meeting safe water and sanitation needs of the people, especially the poor.

Lessons for Replication

Education and awareness raising of civil society is crucial. It is due to a lack of these, that communities are continuing to use groundwater contaminated with arsenice, despite low-cost methodologies for removal of arsenic in homes being implemented. Great efforts should be made to educate civil society, and especially rural communities where the problem is worse, of the associated health risks of using arsenic contaminated groundwater.

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions

The Experience at a Glance

Implementing Agency(ies)

World Bank, Government of Brazil, UNEP, GEF


See also

Other Case studies in the La Plata Basin
  1. Facing Water Challenges in La Plata Water Basin:A WWDR3 Case Study

External Resources

Case study summary

Full case study report


 La plata.pdf  La plata full.pdf

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