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Amazon Nations Funded for Joint Waters Conservation Strategy

SALVADOR BAHIA, Brazil, June 28, 2005 (ENS) - A new project that brings eight Amazon Basin countries together to help the region's 10 million inhabitants conserve and better manage Amazon waters, forests and wildlife was launched Friday at an international waters conference.

For the first time, the Amazon Basin countries Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Surinam, and Venezuela will work together on the management of water resources in the region.

Water is the main natural resource the Amazon has to offer, and the basin as a whole contains about 20 percent of the world's fresh water supplies.

The new Amazon project was announced at the Global Environment Facility's Third Biennial International Waters Conference in Salvador Bahia. Amazon

Section of the Amazon Watershed, Brazil (Photo courtesy UNEP)

Project participants will coordinate the numerous, fragmented national efforts now underway, so that better overall management and and conservation is achieved. Pollution hot spots and damaged habitats and ecosystems will be identified and plans will be drawn up to reduce the threats and restore the damage.

Existing laws on Amazon Basin management will be harmonized, and a regional vision of how to achieve true sustainable development across the eight countries will be drawn up.

An important part of the project will be helping vulnerable countries and communities adapt and cope with acute climatic change. The United Nations said environmental experts are worried that climate change, linked with rising emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, will aggravate the Amazon Basin's problems and worsen the region's living conditions.

Five pilot projects, designed to show how different communities can cost effectively deal with climatic extremes, will be undertaken as part of the project.

The project is being funded by the GEF, an independent financial organization that provides grants to developing countries for projects that benefit the global environment and promote sustainable livelihoods in local communities.

The nearly two year project will cost just under $1.5 million. The GEF approved $700,000 in May as a first installment.

The project will be implemented by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the funds will be administered by the Organization of American States, with the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization as the regional executor of the project.

Rosalia Arteaga Serrano, secretary-general of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization, says the purpose of the initiative is to draft a proposal for a water management model in the Amazon.

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Homes on the Peruvian Amazon (Photo by H. Mazzotti courtesy http://www.go2peru.com)
She said it is necessary to establish guidelines for joint preventive actions to identify the chief problems affecting the Amazon Basin.

The project is important in the search for joint solutions that favor the process of economic, social, and environmentally sustainable development in the region, Serrano told Agencia Brasil.

The project is designed as preparation for a larger, more wide-ranging $10 million mega-basin project scheduled to begin in 2007.

"In the first phase, US$700,000 are slated to be transferred, and, in the second, US$10 million," said Serrano. "We are hopeful that this second parcel of resources for the project will total US$30 million."

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said he believes the new project will play an important part in helping the region meet the United Nations Millennium Development Goals by 2015.

These internationally agreed goals cover issues such as poverty reduction and reversing the spread of diseases like malaria to the empowerment of women and the provision of safe and sufficient quantities of drinking water.

“This new project, funded by the Global Environment Facility, fundamentally acknowledges the crucial economic value of nature and the goods and services provided by river systems, forests and other ecosystems,” said Toepfer.

“It reflects the fact that the environment is not a luxury good, affordable only when other issues have been resolved, but is natural capital on a par with human and financial capital," Toepfer said. "Indeed, this project underlines that sustainable development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals will only be possible through respect and good stewardship of the Earth's natural resources."

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Amazon jaguar. The Amazon is the most diverse ecosystem in the world, supporting around 60,000 plant species, 1000 bird species and more than 300 mammal species. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The people, the land and the wildlife of the Amazon Basin are becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate change health concerns and declining natural capital as a result of deforestation, mining, urbanization and other land use changes.

This was demonstrated during the El Nino year of 1997 when warming of the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean brought great changes to the Amazon. The drought was so severe it led to millions of acres of forest going up in flames, triggering respiratory and other health calamities.

Lagoons dried up, affecting wildlife such as turtles, and the region experienced power rationing and a reduction in the transport carrying capabilities of the Amazon and its tributaries.

Experts are worried that climate change, linked with rising global emissions of carbon dioxide and other so called greenhouse gases, are set to aggravate the basin’s problems making it harder and harder for people and wildlife to cope.

There is also an urgent need to deal with other environmental issues including pollution of rivers from activities such as agriculture and mining which have impacts on drinking water and human health.