What are the similarities between the Amazons and Gran Chaco? At first glance, not much. While the Amazons is the largest tropical forest in the world, the Chaco is an area that combines plains, hills, rivers, bogs and forests. In fact, according to popular belief, even the forms of transportation are different between the two areas: the Amazons, people travel by river in canoes, while in the Chaco, huge trucks cross the black dirt.
But if we look closer, we will find that these two regions have a lot in common, beyond their continent and distinction of containing the greatest amount of forest resources in Latin America. The Amazons and the Chaco are the frontier of oil exploitation, which has affected the health of the water and forests.
The Amazons is a favorite spot for hydroelectric projects due to the amount of water produced there: 20% of the planet’s freshwater. Thus, at the end of 2012, there were 151 proposals for dam constructions in Amazonian countries in the Andean region. The effects of these projects on water resources are immense. For example, the creation of the dam wall completely changes the balance of the river: upstream the flow of sediments is interrupted and downstream the amount of oxygen in the water is reduced. These variations increase the levels of mercury in the water and affect fish and humans.
The Chaco is experiencing a large expansion of agrobusiness with the sowing of thousands of hectares of soy from American producers such as Cargill Inc., Bunge Ltd., and Archer Daniels Midland Co. This change in production has increased water contamination. Agro-chemicals that reach the water supply in this region are responsible for tripling cases of cancer found in children, and a 400% increase in babies born with serious health problems.
Second, the phenomenon of deforestation has also reached alarming rates in both regions. In the Amazons, in 2011 alone, approximately 6,500 hectares were deforested in the Brazilian region. According to Guyra, in 2013, the Chaco region lost 914 square kilometers equal to 29 cities the size of Buenos Aires.
Deforestation has multiple effects on the earth and human rights, including climate change and global warming. Scientific evidence shows that deforestation is responsible for 11 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, if deforestation levels in the Amazons and the Chaco are reduced, this will improve life on earth for humans and life forms.
The Amazons and the Chaco have much more in common than what it seems at first glance, and therefore the countries in which they are located share a common dilemma. They may opt to exploit their oil resources and continue contributing to the inevitable destruction of the planet with water contamination and deforestation. Or they can imagine new forms of managing the Amazons and the Chaco that give priority to protecting water and the forest. For the latter, it would be wise to accept the invitation of social movements and explore other relationships to the land that indigenous peoples, peasants and some urban communities have developed in the global South.
*Researcher in the Center for the Study of Law, Justice, and Society (Dejusticia)