Facing Water Challenges in La Plata Water Basin:A WWDR3 Case Study

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The frequency and magnitude of extreme hydrological events have been increasing in the economic centre of South America over the last 40 years as a consequence of major land use changes and climatic variability, with significant social and economic costs.


Focus Areas

Geographic Scope




Background and Significance

See La Plata River Basin

The Experience: Challenges and Solutions

The Main Challenges


Lack of proper sanitation infrastructure and inadequate wastewater treatment are the main causes of water-related infections in La Plata River basin. Among the major waterborne diseases in the basin, diarrhoea is by far the most widespread. Yellow fever re-emerged in Paraguay during the summer of 2007/2008, affected Argentina and Brazil as well, and claimed 25 lives in a month’s time (PAHO, 2008a and 2008b; Secretaria de Vigilãncia en Saúde, 2008). It was the most severe outbreak since the 1960s, leading the basin countries to agree on common action criteria (CC-RMS, 2008).


La Plata River basin is rich in terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity, but it is under increasing pressure. The initial World Water Assessment Programme case study (WWAP, 2007) identified population growth, road development, expansion of agricultural land, mining and large-scale water development projects (dams, waterways and irrigation projects) as particular sources of pressure. They have resulted in a decrease in the overall quality of the basin environment and created persistent problems, such as erosion of productive land, silting of waterways and reservoirs, soil and water pollution and loss of habitat for fish and wildlife.


Problems related to eutrophication have been observed in some reservoirs. At the Salto Grande dam, for example, a significant phosphorus load resulting from the use of agrochemicals promotes algae growth in summer when discharges are lower, affecting water quality and availability (Chalar, 2006). Another serious environmental problem is that some lotic ecosystems are becoming lentic2, or almost lentic, leading to larger ecotones, the transition areas between adjacent ecosystems – a change entailing destruction of terrestrial habitats and existing ecosystems. In general, all the basin countries have regulations on the protection of water resources and associated ecosystems, but the effectiveness of implementation and enforcement varies.

Risk management

The increase in the frequency and magnitude of extreme hydrological events in La Plata River basin since the mid-20th century, resulting from changes in large scale climatic systems and in land use at regional level, has had fundamental repercussions for risk prediction and mitigation (CIC, 2004b).

Floods have inflicted significant socio-economic costs on the basin. In Argentina, for example, flood-related damage associated with ENSO events in the 1980s and 1990s was estimated at US$2.6 billion, and 235,000 people were evacuated (CIC, 2004d). In the state of Santa Catarina in Brazil, ENSO-related flooding in 1983 caused significant damage along the Paraná River and led to an 8% drop in the state’s GDP. Between 1983 and 1993, flood losses in União da Vitória, a city located on the Iguaçu River in Brazil, totalled over US$110 million (CIC, 2004a). The El Niño event of 1983/1984 in central Uruguay affected over 40,000 people in more than 70 cities and caused losses estimated at over US$1 billion for the entire La Plata River basin (CIC, 2004c).

Overall, measures addressing extreme hydrological events in the region are heavily biased towards structural solutions. Non-structural measures such as warning systems are not functioning effectively. The basin countries are still attempting to reach agreement on the definition of extreme hydrological events, including rainfall and river discharges; such a definition is important for reservoir operations, irrigation regimes and flood warnings. In addition, urban planning and basin management need to be integrated with extreme hydrological event management; otherwise it is difficult to limit socio-economic damage from such events.

In summary, La Plata River basin has become a regional centre of attraction, concentrating the socio-economic development of the five riparian countries. However, this development comes at the cost of spreading shanty towns and increasing problems with water supply, sanitation and health in urban areas, as well as degradation of water quality and ecosystems. At the same time, climate change and climate variability pose potential risks for an agricultural sector that serves the dual purpose of feeding a growing population and providing raw materials for biofuel. Given the increased frequency and magnitude of water-related hazards, cooperation among the basin countries is vital, as is the implementation of well-planned policies supporting both structural and non-structural measures to mitigate the hazards. New legislation across the region emphasizes the social dimension of water, defining it as a public good and guaranteeing access to it as a human right, while recognizing its central role in sustainable socio-economic development. Nevertheless, additional efforts are necessary, at national and basin level alike, to address other issues in the region, most notably poverty.

Results and Impact

Lessons for Replication

Testimonies and Stakeholder Perceptions


See also

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Arrieta Q., L. 2007. Water Related Legislation in Latin America. http://www.nahrim.gov.my/pdf/ToT/Conference%20Session%202/3.%2 0Water_Related_Legislation_in_Latin_America%20LLAVE.pdf (Accessed December 2008.)

Chalar, G. 2006. Dinámica de la eutrofización a diferentes escalas temporales: embalse Salto Grande (Argentina-Uruguay). Galizia Tundisi, J. et al. (eds.) Eutrofização na América do Sul: Causas, conseqüências e tecnologias de gerenciamento e controle [Eutrophication in South America: Causes, Consequences and Technologies for Management and Control]. São Carlos, Brazil, Instituto Internacional de Ecologia. http://limno.fcien.edu.uy/pdf/Chalar2006- EscalasTemporalesSaltoGrande.pdf (Accessed November 2008.)

Comité Coordinador de la Reunión de Ministros de Salud del Mercosur (CC-RMS). 2008. Acta Nº 01/08: Reunión extraordinaria del Comité Coordinador preparatoria de la XXIV Reunión de Ministros de Salud del Mercosur. Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, February. http://www.mspbs.gov.py/miscelaneas.php?codigo=2 (Accessed April 2008.)

Comité Intergubernamental Coordinador de los Países de la Cuenca del Plata (CIC). 2004a. Bases conceituais para a visão dos recursos hídricos na porção brasileira da bacia do rio da Prata: termo de referência. Buenos Aires, CIC. Technical document elaborated by Dias Coelho, M. (coord.), Souza Lima, G. and Petrelli, M. Jr. http://www.cicplata.org/marco/pdf/vision_3a/brasil/visao_brasil_01_a_0 4_final.pdf (Accessed November 2008.)

Comité Intergubernamental Coordinador de los Países de la Cuenca del Plata (CIC). 2004b. Eventos hidrometeorológicos extremos: Caracterización y evaluación de métodos de predicción de eventos extremos de clima e hidrología en la Cuenca del Plata. Programa Marco para la Gestión Sostenible de los Recursos Hídricos de la Cuenca del Plata en relación a los efectos hidrológicos de la variabilidad y el cambio climático. Componente 2a: Definición del Sistema de Predicción Hidroclimática. Buenos Aires, CIC. Technical document elaborated by Marengo, J. (coord.), Menéndez, A., Guetter, A., Hogue, T. and Mechoso, C. http://cicplata.org/marco/pdf/prediccion_hidroclimatica_2a/tema_3_eve ntos_hidrometeorologicos_extremos.pdf (Accessed November 2008.)

Comité Intergubernamental Coordinador de los Países de la Cuenca del Plata (CIC). 2004c. Visão dos Recursos Hídricos da bacia do Rio da Prata. Visão regional. Programa Marco para la Gestión Sostenible de los Recursos Hídricos en la Cuenca del Plata. Buenos Aires, CIC. Technical document elaborated by Tucci, C. http://cicplata.org/marco/pdf/vision_3a/vision_integrada.pdf (Accessed November 2008.)

Comité Intergubernamental Coordinador de los Países de la Cuenca del Plata (CIC). 2004d. Visión para el desarrollo sostenible de la cuenca del Plata y su relación con los recursos hídricos. Informe Nacional de Argentina. Buenos Aires, CIC. Technical document elaborated by Mugetti, A. (coord.). http://www.cicplata.org/marco/pdf/vision_3a/argentina/argentina_vision _01_a_03.pdf (Accessed December 2008.)

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean 2007a Anuario Estadístico 2007. Santiago de Chile, CEPAL/ECLAC. http://www.eclac.cl/cgibin/ getProd.asp?xml=/publicaciones/xml/8/32598/P32598.xml&xsl=/de ype/tpl/p9f.xsl&base=/tpl/top-bottom.xslt (Accessed December 2008.)

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). 2007b. Social Panorama of Latin America. Santiago de Chile, ECLAC/CEPAL. http://www.eclac.cl/cgibin/ getProd.asp?xml=/publicaciones/xml/9/30309/P30309.xml&xsl=/dd s/tpl-i/p9f.xsl&base=/tpl/top-bottom.xslt (Accessed November 2008.)

International Energy Agency (IEA). 2006. World Energy Outlook 2006. Paris, IEA. http://www.iea.org/textbase/nppdf/free/2006/weo2006.pdf (Accessed November 2008.)

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 2004. FAO Statistical Yearbook 2004. Rome, FAO. http://www.fao.org/es/ess/yearbook/vol_1_2/site_en.asp?page=cp (Accessed November 2008.)

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 2006. FAOStat: Food Security Country Profiles. Rome, FAO. http://www.fao.org/countryProfiles/water/default.asp?lang=en (Accessed November 2008.)

Gobierno de la República Oriental del Uruguay. 2001. Análisis sectorial de agua potable y saneamiento: Uruguay. PIAS serie análisis sectoriales. Washington, DC, Organización Panamericana de la Salud. http://www.bvsde.paho.org/eswww/fulltext/analisis/uruguaya/uruguaya. pdf (Accessed December 2008.)

Magrin, G., Gay García, C., Cruz Choque, D., Giménez, J. C., Moreno, A. R., Nagy, G. J., Nobre, C. and Villamizar, A. 2007. Latin America. Parry, M., et al. (eds.), Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK, Cambridge University Press. http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessmentreport/ ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter13.pdf (Accessed November 2008.)

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Ministerio da Saúde. 2004. Plano Nacional de Saúde (PNS): Um Pacto pela Saúde no Brasil. Brasilia, Ministerio da Saúde, Secretaría Ejecutiva, Subsecretaria de Planejamento e Orçamento. Ministerio de Salud Pública y Bienestar Social del Paraguay. 2005. Boletín epidemiológico semanal. Asunción, Ministerio de Salud Pública y Bienestar Social, Dirección de Vigilancia de Enfermedades Transmisibles. Ministerio de Salud Pública de la República Oriental del Uruguay. 2002. Situación de leptospirosis en Uruguay. El diario médico. Montevideo, Salud Hoy.

NotiSur. 2006. Argentina: Government rescinds contract with Aguas Argentinas, renationalizes water service. Albuquerque, NM, Latin America Data Base. http://www.thefreelibrary.com/ARGENTINA%3a+GOVERNMENT+RESCI NDS+CONTRACT+WITH+AGUAS+ARGENTINAS%2c...-a0144164403 (Accessed May 2008.)

Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO). 2004. Basic Country Health Profiles for the Americas 2002. Washington, DC, PAHO/Organización Panamericana de la Salud. http://www.paho.org/English/DD/AIS/cp_index.htm

Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO). 2008a. Yellow fever in Argentina. EID Updates: Emerging and Reemerging Infectious Diseases, Region of the Americas. http://www.paho.org/english/AD/DPC/CD/eid-eer-2008-03- 31.htm (Accessed April 2008.)

Panamerican Health Organization (PAHO). 2008b. Update of yellow fever in Paraguay and Argentina. EID Updates: Emerging and Reemerging Infectious Diseases, Region of the Americas. http://www.paho.org/english/AD/DPC/CD/eid-eer-2008-03-13.htm (Accessed April 2008.)

Pochat, V. Forthcoming. La Plata River Basin Case Study Report. Ruiz Caro, A. 2007. La seguridad energética de América Latina y el Caribe en el contexto mundial. Santiago de Chile, Comisión Económica para América Latina y el Caribe. http://www.eclac.cl/publicaciones/xml/3/32123/lcl2828e.pdf (Serie Recursos Naturales e Infraestructura, Nº 128; accessed November 2008.) Secretaria de Vigilãncia en Saúde. 2008. Situación de Fiebre Amarilla. Diciembre 2007 a marzo 2008. Reunión de Ministros de Salud del Mercosur. Simposio Mercosur Fiebre Amarilla. Puerto Iguazú, February. http://www.mspbs.gov.py/varios/simposio/Anexo%20III-B%20Brasil.ppt (Accessed December 2008.)

Sistema Nacional de Vigilancia Epidemiológica de Argentina. 2003. Casos notificados de enfermedades epidemiológicas. Buenos Aires, Dirección de Epidemiología.

Sistema Nacional de Información en Salud de Bolivia. 2005. Boletín semanal de vigilancia. La Paz, Ministerio de Salud y Deportes.

UNESCO-World Water Assessment Programme (UNESCO-WWAP). 2006. Case Studies: Moving towards an integrated approach. Water, a shared responsibility: The United Nations World Water Development Report 2. Paris/Oxford, UNESCO/Berghan Book. http://www.unesco.org/water/wwap/wwdr/wwdr2/pdf/wwdr2_ch_14.p df (Accessed November 2008.)

Von Cappeln, J. 2002. Documento sobre los recursos hídricos: Uruguay 2002. Montevideo, Dirección Nacional de Hidrografía. (Technical document.) World Water Assessment Programme (WWAP). 2007. La Plata Basin Case Study. Final Report. April 2007. http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0015/001512/151252E.pdf (Accessed November 2008.)

External Resources

The United Nations World Water Development Report 3


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