Latin America Green News: 3/17 - 3/23/2017

President Michelle Bachelet and Kristine McDivitt at the donation ceremony this week
Credit: Tompkins Conservation

A million acres of Patagonia donated to Chile, Peru slammed by deluge, Latin America’s future water challenges

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 March 17 – 23, 2017

Conservation | Special Report

In an unprecedented and historic move, Kristine McDivitt, widow of U.S. billionaire and founder of the North Face clothing brand, Doug Tompkins, announced the donation of one million acres (408,000 hectares) of land in Chilean Patagonia to the government of Chile for the purpose of creating 17 national parks. The land covers an area roughly the size of Switzerland and represents the largest land donation in history from a private entity to a country. Chilean President Michelle Bachelet and McDivitt participated in the official signing ceremony this week during which Bachelet said this was a “key step to treasuring this giant source of biodiversity and keeping it safe for the public interest." The Tompkins began to buy land in southern Chile in the 1990s and for years Chileans were wary of the family’s intentions with the land. Since that time, Doug and Kris Tompkins created the Tompkins Conservation organization and have been active advocates of conservation in the region. As part of the donation agreement, Chile agreed to add an additional 949,000 hectares of land to the total area being used for national park development. The 17 parks will stretch from the Chilean city of Puerto Montt down to Cape Horn, some 2,000km to the south, creating a Network of National Parks in Patagonia. (BBC 3/16/2017, El Dínamo 3/16/2017)

After three years of opposing a mining project proposed inside the Sierra La Laguna Biosphere Reserve near La Paz, Baja California Sur, citizens’ advocacy efforts have paid off.  A Mexican federal court overturned the prior decision of the Environment and Natural Resources Ministry (SEMARNAT) that granted permission to the Zapal Development company for the Los Cardones mining project. The case against Zapal was brought forth by the Citizens Opposition in Defense of Water and Life who pressed charges against the company for illegal mining. (BCS Noticias 3/17/2017)

Climate Change

Following the trend of bizarre and extreme weather and natural phenomena that appear to be ravaging Latin America this year, Peru is now the most recent victim of the impacts of a warming climate. A sudden and abnormal warming of Pacific waters has caused the deadliest rains the country has faced in decades, provoking landslides and runaway rivers, killing people and destroying highways, bridges, and crops. So far 75 people have died, 263 wounded, 20 disappeared, some 630,000 affected. The rainfall has been 10 times greater than the average and the deluge has prompted the government to declare a state of emergency in almost half of the country. The people most affected by the rains are low-income residents living in makeshift homes on floodplains. Many towns have lost power and have no access to drinking water. Jorge Chavez, a government official tasked with coordinating a response to the crisis said, "We need more and better bridges, we need highways and cities with drainage systems," said Chavez. "We can't count on nature being predictable." (The New York Times 3/18/2017, El País 3/20/2017) 

Water | World Water Day 

Yesterday was #WorldWaterDay, and organizations around the world took to social media and the news to discuss some of the most pressing needs to protect our most essential natural resource. To mark the occasion, UNICEF published a report highlighting some of the challenges future generations face in securing access to clean water. The report states the within two decades 600 million children will be in regions enduring extreme water stress.  That equates to one in every four children around the world. Unsurprisingly, the poorest and disadvantaged will suffer the most. On a positive note, the report singled out Paraguay as the country that has achieved the biggest improvements in access to water for rural dwellers. Today, 94 percent of Paraguay’s citizens have access to safe water, compared to 51.6 percent in 2000. (The Guardian 3/22/2017)

Meanwhile, the Development Bank of Latin America (CAF) warned that, though access to drinking water in the region has improved, the pressure on water resources has also increased due to the growth of cities and an increased reliance on water for industrial and agricultural purposes. According to CAF, climate change is affecting Latin America's water resources, which account for a third of the planet's total freshwater. In the report, CAF identified water as one of the key resources the region must focus on learning to manage efficiently in the coming years as it faces increased growth and concentration of populations in cities. It also believes that most cities in the region do not have enough infrastructure for effective drainage and management of water. The Bank estimates that Latin America would need to invest 0.3 percent of its annual regional GDP by 2030 to achieve 100 percent coverage of drinking water in the region. (La Estrella de Panama 3/22/2017)

The Friends of the Earth Association of Latin America and the Caribbean published a report that highlights the negative consequences industrial activities are having on water resources in ColombiaEl SalvadorHondurasGuatemalaBrazilParaguay, and Uruguay. La Guajira region in Colombia has the worst water contamination in Latin America thanks to its location within one of the largest coal holdings in the world. The Cerrejon mine is located in the middle of the Rancheria Basin River, the most important source of water supply for the population in the area. Experts note that the loss of ecosystems and forests due to mining, illicit crops, urbanization, agriculture, and fires only serves to exacerbate the issue of water contamination and is increasingly affecting water security for future generations. (El Espectador 3/22/2017)

#ICYMI: In honor of World Water Day check out NRDCs Story Map on the rivers of Chilean Patagonia. This incredible region has some of the world’s most extraordinary and unique hydrology – see how hydroelectric power is threatening the future of these rivers and learn what you can do to protect them HERE. Disponible en español AQUI.


Two local companies from Brazil and Argentina announced an US$80 million investment in San Luis, Argentina to construct solar energy projects that aim to increase installed energy capacity in the province by 5 percent. Officials from San Luis expressed satisfaction over the announcement and say that the province has been putting in place policies to attract private investment in energy projects. The projects will supply 47 MW of power to the country’s electricity markets. (Telam 3/22/2017)