In recent years, wetlands have taken on greater public relevance, which is why the debate on their protection status has risen. Sadly, images of these ecosystems affected by fires are frequent, as was the case of Corrientes and recently the new outbreaks in the Paraná Delta, which have already affected more than 60,000 hectares so far this year, and the Mar Chiquita Reserve, in the province of Buenos Aires. All these wetlands have something in common, which goes beyond the characteristics that define and categorize them: they are under total helplessness by the law and the national political force.
In Argentina, they represent approximately 21% of the territory. They fulfill fundamental roles for the development of people: they supply water, offer regional and climatic hydrological regulation, food and medicine, soil nutrition, filtering and retention of nutrients and pollutants, cushioning of floods since they regulate water basins, carbon sequestration, coastal erosion control and aquifer recharge.
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However, as there is no national regulation, the knowledge we have about these ecosystems is limited. It is not known exactly how many there are, their size, or their state of conservation and destruction.
Recently, the Nation’s Minister of the Environment announced the presentation of a new bill, which has the support of the Federal Environment Council (COFEMA), and will be added to those previously presented.
Nevertheless, this project has several elements that are questionable from the environmental perspective. It does not contemplate a moratorium and does not specify deadlines for carrying out a national inventory, which is fundamental to knowing the wetlands of our country, in addition to determining priority areas for conservation.
Another worrying change concerns the definition of wetlands, which was modified to the detriment of caring for these ecosystems. In this definition, the importance of biota and the role of hydric soils have been minimized. If a territory dries up, for example, it does not mean that it does not have the opportunity to recover its water flow over time. However, if this change of name included in the bill facilitates the advancement of enterprises, mainly real estate and livestock, on these lands, the alterations in land use would modify the function of the wetland and it would not have the opportunity to regenerate.
In turn, this project eliminates 11 principles and 9 important objectives, which were focused on generating protection and regulation mechanisms for activities on wetlands.
Society and its participation is fundamental
Citizen participation in decision-making processes must be a fundamental requirement, since this is protected by national and international regulations. For the preparation of said project, popular consultations were not carried out. Nor were the main organizations promoting the demand for a wetland law summoned.
There is no doubt that wetlands require legal protection. But we need a national regulation that prioritizes the preservation of these ecosystems and that includes the figure of criminal offense with significant fines for those who commit damage to wetlands and for those who start intentional fires. Also, it is necessary to contemplate a moratorium and a national inventory.
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In the midst of a global climate, health and environmental crisis, it has been shown that public policies must rise to the occasion and prioritize people and the planet. In our country, we can set an example by legislating and generating effective protection mechanisms for our ecosystems. Wetlands need it.
*By Leonel Mingo, coordinator of the Greenpeace Argentina wetlands campaign.
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