GEF Amazon Project - Water Resources and Climate Change

August 29, 2013

By María Eugenia Corvalán, Communication Specialist, GEF Amazon Project

The GEF Amazon project's objective is to contribute to the effective protection and sustainable use of the water and land resources of the Amazon Basin, based upon the principles of integrated water resources management (IWRM), and management of the effects of climate change (CC) within Amazonian communities, in a coordinated and coherent way. 

Working towards this goal, the GEF Amazon project is trying to create a shared vision for the Amazon River among the eight Amazonian countries - Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela - through a deep understanding of the common problems, priorities, needs and goals. 

Projects Main Outputs: 

  1. Transboundary Diagnostic Analysis (TDA), based on targeted research about IWRM and hydro-climate vulnerability assessment. The TDA provides the scientific input for the Strategic Action Program;
  2. Strategic Action Program will be formulated based on the results and outputs of the Project activities;
  3. Integrated Information System (IIS) to enhance inter-country cooperation, information sharing and integrated basin management.

Innovative Elements of the Project:

  1. Contribute to the protection of one of the most important ecosystems of the planet;
  2. Foster the joint management and conjunctive use of surface and groundwater in Amazonian urban centers;
  3. Create an alliance among the academic communities, governmental institutions of natural resources management and local communities for the IWRM of the Basin;
  4. Integrate climate change problems into the natural resources management of a transboundary basin.

The project is implemented by UNEP and executed by the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) and its permanent secretariat. The project total cost is 52.2 million USD, funded with a GEF grant of 7 million USD and 45.2 million of co-financing.


ACTO and the GEF Amazon Project

An interview with ACTO Secretary General, Ambassador Robby Ramlakhan

The Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization (ACTO) is an intergovernmental body that brings together the eight countries of the Amazon basin: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Peru, Suriname and Venezuela.

This International Organization has its origins in the Amazon Cooperation Treaty (ACT), and was signed on July 3, 1978 to recognize the transboundary nature of the Amazon, reaffirm the sovereignty of the Amazon countries over their respective Amazon regions, and also to institutionalize and direct the regional cooperation process.

In 1995, the Amazon countries decided to strengthen the TCA, with the creation of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization and a Permanent Secretariat in Brasilia, Brazil. The decision was implemented in 1998 when ACTO was officially established as a mechanism responsible for strengthening the cooperation process.

ACTO has as its highest instance the Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs. It is supported by the Amazon Cooperation Council (ACC) and the Coordinating Commission for the Amazonian Cooperation Council (CCOOR).

In 2009, the Heads of State of Member Countries attributed the Organization with a \"new and modern role as a forum for cooperation, exchange, knowledge and joint projection to face new international and complex challenges that arise\", as established in the Declaration of Manaus. Consequently, ACTO started a process of institutional re-launch.

In this context, the Ministers of Foreign Affairs prepared a new ACTO Amazon Cooperation Strategic Agenda for the short, medium and long term, which contains regional actions to support national initiatives with a horizon of 8 years for its implementation. The Agenda includes various activities, projects and programs in the areas of the environment, indigenous affairs, science, technology and education, health and tourism, transport, infrastructure and social affairs.

From the signing of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty to date an untold story is recorded in the Amazon region, a model of South - South cooperation that will celebrate 35 years of existence in July of 2013. The ACTO Secretary General, Ambassador Robby Ramlakhan, talks about the GEF Amazon as one of the activities that ACTO executes in the Amazon basin.

Within the Amazon Cooperation Strategic Agenda of ACTO, what is the role of the GEF Amazon Project-Water resources and climate change?

SG/ACTO: First of all, we know very well that there cannot be life without water. Second, that the demand for fresh water is increasing continuously, but the resources are very limited and are stretched to the breaking point. Third, that variability and climate change can have serious effects on the provision of fresh water necessary to suffice our daily needs. Therefore it is of utmost importance that we abstain from actions that are detrimental to the supply of fresh water. The Amazon forest is the biggest tropical rainforest in the world and holds enormous quantities of fresh water. The ACTO envisages the protection and provision of fresh water in the Amazon Basin and has developed a joint program with the GEF, to reach this objective. The role of the GEF Amazon Project is to develop a Strategic Action Program (SAP) among the 8 Member Countries of the ACTO for an integrated and sustainable management of trans-boundary water resources of the Amazon Basin, and create a favorable environment for future implementation, through a comprehensive engagement process with the key stakeholders in the Basin. It will serve as a reference framework for efficient, integrated and comprehensive water resources management aimed at improving the quality of life of Amazonian populations.

Taking into account that ACTO is the Executing Agency of the GEF Amazon Project, can you tell us how the Member Countries of ACTO act and support this regional initiative?

SG/ACTO: The Project “Integrated and Sustainable Management of Trans Boundary Water Resources in the Amazon River Basin considering Variability and Climate Change” was adopted by the Member Countries in 2010. With this approval, they agreed to coordinate their actions in biodiversity and habitat protection, ecosystem conservation, erosion prevention, water quality protection and maintenance of a global dioxide (CO2) sink, while providing a sustainable basis for human economic development within the Basin and reducing the vulnerability of peoples and ecosystems to extreme events. In this first stage, and in agreement with the policy of furthering South-South cooperation, ACTO negotiated a contract with the Brazilian National Water Agency, which has acquired much knowledge and experiences in water management. As a result, many technicians from the other Member Countries were trained in Brazil.

Finally, can you explain who will be the main beneficiaries from the activities of the GEF Amazon Project?

SG/ACTO: Due to its enormous extent and natural environmental complexity, the Amazon Basin is essential for the regional and global environment. Protection of this Basin, including the water resources, is crucial for mankind. Therefore, this project will benefit the world community in general and the Amazonian populations in particular. 



Advances in the knowledge of Amazonian aquatic ecosystems

One of the components of the GEF Amazon project seeks to understand the natural resource of the Amazon basin, by studying the Amazonian aquatic ecosystems. The study is carried out in different specific areas (hotspots) and will set up guidelines to be used by the project throughout the Amazon.

Dr. Cleber Alho*, lead this study and in this interview explains how this research progresses.

What are the areas that you identified to study the Amazonian aquatic ecosystems?

C.A.:  I am studying the aquatic ecosystems of the Xingu River headwaters, the Negro River and the Tocantins River region, altered by the Tucuruí Hydro Power Plant. The objective of the field works in these areas will improve the knowledge and management of the aquatic ecosystems in hotspots, taking into account fishes and fishing.



It is important to clarify what is a specific area or hotspot?

C.A.: It is a priority area for conservation that uses two criteria: species endemism, it means the tendency of some living beings to live in a particular area, and the degree of environmental threat. Some endemic species are restricted in their geographical distribution, but they are more susceptible to extinction face to the environmental changes caused by humans. The degree of environmental threat is defined by the degree of habitat loss, this occurs when the area loses at least 70% of its original structure, where endemic species are found. 

Can you give us an example in the Amazon region?

C.A.: Sure, in the waterways along the Xingu River basin, 142 species of fishes were cataloged, of which 36 are endemic, they only live there. This region is under a strong impact of the expanding use and occupation of lands, with deforestation and intensive cultivation of grains, especially soy, as well as the conversion of native vegetation into grass for cattle. These environmental threats have impacted the aquatic ecosystems, with the alteration and loss of fish’s natural habitats.

According to the activities of the GEF Amazon Project in those specific areas, what relevant facts can you highlight?

C.A: I note that there is a narrow dependence of the fisherman with natural resources of the Amazonian aquatic ecosystems. The alteration and loss of these natural environments, which fisheries Biology depends, have led to the degradation of these ecosystems and the consequent loss of natural resources, including fishing. Besides the observation works, and interviews with leaders and fishing cooperatives, we have advanced with the identification of environmental stressors in the hotspots.

What is the approach used?

C.A.: To improve the knowledge of the Amazonian aquatic ecosystems, the study focuses on the Amazonian fish fauna (fish species group) and its aquatic ecosystems (environmental threat level). Then, the biological criteria can be an analysis element of the hotspot, for example, identifying critical habitats for feeding and fish reproduction (biological indicators) and how the environmental threats are affecting these habitats.

As a researcher, what is the lesson that you get from your field work to submit to the GEF Amazon Project?

C.A: If endemic species live in a given hotspot and not in another, the environmental threats acting negatively should be mitigated or eliminated, through various interventions, including a strategic conservation plan.

Thus the results of various scientific studies conducted by the GEF Amazon Project will serve as inputs to formulate the Strategic Action Program, PAE, the main objective of the Project.

(*) Dr. Cleber Alho holds a PhD in Ecology from the University of North Carolina, and Postdoctoral in Ecology and Museology from the National Museum of Natural History of the Smithsonian Institute of Washington, United States.

Prof. Naziano Filissola talks about the hydrology of the Amazon River Basin
(Video in Spanish)


For additional information check  ACTO website