By Fermín Koop
Following a recent push to approve laws that would protect glaciers and forests, President Mauricio Macri’s administration is trying to move forward this year with legislation to protect the country’s wetlands, which represent 21 percent of the territory and face serious threats due to the growing deforestation, real estate development and expansion of farming.
Macri said this week that his government plans to send a bill to Congress to regulate the use of the country’s wetlands so that only activities compatible with this type of ecosystem can be carried out. If approved, a national inventory would be created and provinces would divide the wetlands according to what kind of projects can be carried out.
“Wetlands are being seriously affected by real estate developments and agriculture development so a legislation to protect them is necessary. We want to turn it into a law before the end of the year,” Juan Carlos Villalonga, a Let’s Change lawmaker who used to be the head of Buenos Aires City’s Environmental Protection Agency (APM), told the Herald. “People tend to see the wetlands as unusable lands that have to be altered. We need to change that way of thinking.”
Environmental organizations have been pushing for a law to protect the wetlands for a long time. The Lower House approved a bill last year but it wasn’t discussed in the Upper House, meaning it lost its parliamentary status. The key aspects of that project will be maintained and only some details will be updated, Villalonga said, anticipating the bill will be officially unveiled next week.
“We’ll be more precise regarding what can be done in each area, as well as making sure the budget for the bill is guaranteed. It can easily be approved by the Lower House of Congress during the first semester and in the Senate during the second half of the year,” he added.
The importance of the wetlands became evident last year after severe floods in Buenos Aires province. Environmental organizations said the real estate expansion was to blame as many gated communities had been built on former wetlands, which prevented rainwater from being absorbed by the land.
Wetlands provide numerous benefits — commonly known as “ecosystem services” — to the environment, ranging from freshwater supply, food and building materials, and biodiversity to flood control, groundwater recharge, and climate change mitigation. Yet studies demonstrates that wetland area and quality continue to decline in most regions of the world.
“They act like a sponge, absorbing lots of water until they are filled up. If it’s covered with crops or a real estate development, that capacity is affected,” Manuel Jaramillo, head of Conservation at Vida Silvestre Foundation, the local partner of WWF, told the Herald. “Nature is giving us clear signs, such as the recent floods, that we must protect the wetlands. We have to end the year with a bill that protects them because we can’t afford to waste more time.”
Argentina has 22 wetlands of international importance — known as Ramsar sites — such as Valdés Peninsula (Chubut), South Waterfront Ecological Reserve (Buenos Aires City) and the Samborombón Bay (Buenos Aires province), one of the areas most affected by climate change in Argentina and home to the Pampas deer, a species at risk of extinction.
The Parana’s Delta — an area shared by Entre Ríos and Santa Fe — was declared as a wetland of international importance last week. It covers 240,000 hectares and includes two national parks, Predelta and Islas de Santa Fe. The site provides essential support to the livelihoods of the local communities as well as food and shelter for many species of fish, some of which are migratory, and several species of birds, reptiles, and mammals.