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Mercosur: drought of proposals and concrete actions

13 July, 2023 | Ricardo Changala

One thinks that when presidents meet they talk about important things, the most important for the people who live in the territories they govern, that they spend their time to finding solutions to the main challenges they face and that afflict those people.

Surely it is so, it’s what they do from their own perspectives, agendas and interests.

But, when we see what happened at the LXII Summit of MERCOSUR Presidents, held on July 4, 2023, at least some of us have doubts about it. In this case, not so much because of what was discussed, agreed or published, but because of the unusual omissions recorded.

At the end of the Summit, two communiqués were issued: a joint one from the presidents of the States parties and associates[1] and another from the Eastern Republic of Uruguay, which is a party, but issued a communiqué alone[2].

Both documents mention a multiplicity of topics (the set has 43 numerals and that of Uruguay about seven pages), all transcendent, of course, covering a great thematic diversity, from the political, commercial, social, environmental, among other topics.

However, it is unusual that, in the middle of such a critical situation regarding the water situation in the region, the point is not mentioned, neither in the joint communiqué, nor in the solitary one of Uruguay. Let’s keep in mind that the problem of droughts and floods is not exclusive to the southern part of Uruguay, but, in one way or another, affects the entire region, then, now or in the immediate future.

On the same day that the presidents were meeting in the beautiful area of Iguazu, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced the prevalence of conditions that may indicate the onset of an El Niño episode, for the first time in seven years.

The El Niño phenomenon is typically associated with an increase in rainfall in some southern areas of South America, the southern United States, the Horn of Africa and Central Asia.

On the contrary, El Niño can also lead to severe droughts in Australia, Indonesia, some parts of South Asia, Central America and northern South America[3].

“The formation of an El Niño event will greatly increase the likelihood of temperature records being broken and more extreme heat being experienced in many parts of the world and in the oceans,” said WMO Secretary-General Professor Petteri Taalas.

The WMO made the announcement, precisely so that “…governments around the world prepare to limit the effects that this may have on our health, our ecosystems and our economies,” since early warnings and preventive measures to cope with extreme weather events associated with this important climate phenomenon are of the utmost importance to save lives and livelihoods.

It seems that the Mercosurian rulers did not understand that the Summit was a good opportunity to take action on this issue, not even the government of Uruguay, which is experiencing an unusual lack of water in much of the national territory.

In those same days, other countries were making international agreements on the subject.

Such is the case of Panama, a country that is currently facing a serious drought that is putting at risk the operation of its main source of income: the interoceanic canal.

In this context, on July 6, Panama was the first country in the Americas to ratify the Convention on the Protection and Use of Transboundary Watercourses and International Lakes (Water Convention), a unique international legal instrument and an intergovernmental platform whose objective is to guarantee the sustainable use of transboundary water resources by facilitating cooperation.

The Water Convention requires Parties to prevent, control and reduce transboundary impacts, use transboundary waters in a reasonable and equitable manner and ensure their sustainable management.

On July 6, 2023, by becoming the first country in Latin America to accede to the Water Agreement, Panama took an important step to support the sustainable use of transboundary water resources through cooperation.

Is it worth asking, what are the concrete actions that are being carried out in MERCOSUR to protect our water resources?

From the recent Summit, no answer came about about it.

[1] https://www.mercosur.int/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/Comunicado-Conjunto-Presidentes-EP-EA-ES.pdf

[2] https://www.gub.uy/ministerio-relaciones-exteriores/comunicacion/noticias/comunicado-republica-oriental-del-uruguay-marco-cumbre-presidentes-del

[3] https://public.wmo.int/es/media/comunicados-de-prensa/la-organizaci%C3%B3n-meteorol%C3%B3gica-mundial-anuncia-la-prevalencia-de-unas