Approach to the Guaraní aquifer system (SAG) and its social and political implications

Approach to the Guaraní aquifer system (SAG) and its social and political implications

By Mariana Leonor Neves

Almost daily we listen, we read, we learn about water. The dissemination of alarming data on the scarcity of water resources in some regions, the waste and bad distribution in others, are more and more numerous.

1. Introduction

Almost daily we listen, we read, we learn about water. The dissemination of alarming data on the scarcity of water resources in some regions, the waste and bad distribution in others, are more and more numerous.

Likewise, catastrophic statistics on infant mortality related directly to the scarcity of water suitable for human consumption move us every day, while the news reports countless droughts and the impossibility of transferring water to agricultural areas, which produces monetary losses. millionaires and alarms important sectors of the world economy.

Within the chaotic scenario described, we must locate ourselves regionally in order to analyze how the global situation affects us and the possibilities that the region has to carry out the exploitation and conservation of the resource.

Thus, in this framework, it is necessary to identify the main problems that the shortage of drinking water brings, as well as to achieve an approximation to the knowledge of the GUARANI ACUIFEROUS SYSTEM (SAG). Likewise, we must understand in terms of the treatment of the issue addressed, how free trade, multinational companies and world credit organizations affect us with their policies aimed at the appropriation of the Aquifer, and then analyze both the social and political implications that They come together with the possession of potable water of excellent quality by Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay.

2.- Problematic

Currently, more than 2.6 billion people, 40% of the world's population, do not have access to sanitation services and more than 1 billion still obtain their drinking water (which cannot even be called potable) from unsanitary sources . The problem of drinking water scarcity favors infections and threatens human development in many States. Millions of children are the first fatalities of water scarcity or water unfit for human consumption, unsanitary waters and lack of hygiene. Diarrheal infections cause 1.8 million deaths a year, the majority in children under 5 years of age. 80% of all diseases in the countries of the South are caused by the use of unhealthy water. Billions of people today do not have adequate sanitation facilities. And speaking of data, 600,000 white farmers in South Africa consume 60% of the country's water sources for irrigation, while 15,000,000 citizens of color do not have access to drinking water, half of the Palestinian cities and villages do not have Tap water, while all the colonies installed by Israel do have it, 85% of the volume of water in the rivers of France is polluted. Brazil has 11% of the planet's fresh water sources, but 45,000,000 Brazilians still do not have access to drinking water, etc., etc.

The projections are even more alarming: by 2025 more than 3 billion human beings - 80% in the "peripheral countries" - will suffer from a lack of water. The global population will increase in the span of half a century by 3 billion people, and most of them will be born in countries that already experience water scarcity. According to UN figures, in the year 2025, the problems that today fall on a fifth of the population will affect two out of every 3 inhabitants.

Within this framework, it is worth wondering what both the United Nations and the World Bank are looking for by insistently repeating that water will be increasingly scarce and that the wars of this century will be caused by water. And following the same order of ideas, we must also ask ourselves what these organizations are referring to when they affirm that the resource must be protected from contamination and that it must be developed sustainably. In addition, they argue, water as a resource must be preserved. Preserved from whom? In First World terms, this means that local people do not have access to water and therefore cannot use it freely.

In the particular case of our region, in the words of the World Bank: "in Mercosur, industrial and population growth can put available resources at risk, including water." Furthermore, professor Elsa Bruzzone, a member of CEMIDA, adds that behind the pressure from the IMF to privatize the National and Province Banks of Buenos Aires, the issue of water is also involved: these banks have in their debtor portfolios the owners of some of the best land in the country.

EL CEMIDA also wonders if the massive purchase of Patagonian lands near lakes and rivers by North Americans and Europeans is due to an early taking of positions for a future that is dangerously looming.

Concluding, it is important to focus on the fact that water has sanitary, productive, symbolic and even cultural importance and as such it can be considered a public good, an essential resource such as air, an essential human right and as such be protected, or it can be considered merchandise and as such quickly become an object of profit.

3- Brief description of the Guaraní Aquifer System

The Guaraní Aquifer System (SAG) is one of the largest drinking water reservoirs in the world, stretching from central Brazil to the Argentine Pampa and flowing under part of Paraguay and Uruguay.

It is located between the parallels 16º and 32º of South latitude and the meridians 47º and 56º of West longitude. It extends through the basins of the Paraná, Paraguay and Uruguay rivers. It has an approximate area of ​​1,194,000 square kilometers, of which 839,000 correspond to Brazil, 226,000 to Argentina, 71,700 to Paraguay and 59,000 to Uruguay. To the north, it makes contact with the Pantanal, which in turn connects with the Amazon. The western limit of the Aquifer in Paraguay is unknown. In Argentine territory it is estimated that it extends towards the Bermejo basin; The southern limit is also unknown, but it is not ruled out that it continues towards the Pampas and Patagonian regions, being able to connect with the area of ​​the great pre-Andean lakes. It is one of the largest underground water reserves on the planet, estimated at about 50,000 cubic kilometers. The most common depth of the Aquifer is 200 meters, but it can reach 1,000 meters. Water temperature varies with depth.

The region comprised by the Aquifer has some 15,000,000 inhabitants. Guaraní is the main source of drinking water supply for urban, industrial and agricultural supply. In Brazil, more than 300 cities with between 3,000 and 500,000 inhabitants are fully or partially supplied by it. In São Paulo alone, more than 60% of the population (that is, 5,500,000 people) depend on the water from the Aquifer. In Paraguay, some 200 wells have been registered that supply populations in the eastern region of the country. Uruguay has about 135 wells and is used for public supply and thermal baths. In Argentina, only 6 freshwater thermal wells are used in the eastern sector of the Province of Entre Ríos.

The aquifer has wealth. To the excellent quality of the groundwater suitable for human and agricultural consumption, its richness in chemical elements such as deuterium and tritium, used in astronautics and in thermonuclear tests respectively, must be added. In addition, uranium, thorium and silicon penetrate the earth and the aquifer through rain, also suitable for the space and aeronautical industry.

4- Some background

- Some geological characteristics of the Aquifer have been known for more than 50 years, due to the explorations of PETROBRAS, YPF and PULIPETROL in Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

- The study of the Aquifer was carried out by National Universities of the four States, the final cost of their investigations was estimated by the Universities in 6,000,000 dollars. But the governments of the region decided to hand over the project to the World Bank (WB). In 2001, the World Bank approved the project and determined that its purpose would be to preserve the aquifer from contamination and achieve its sustainable development. It also established that the governments of the region would pay their part in "kind" - that is, with Guaraní water-, this implies, simply and simply, the privatization of the resource, without taking into account the needs of Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay nor that of its inhabitants. It also established that the cost of the project amounted to $ 26,760,000.

- On May 22, 2003, in Montevideo, the Mercosur countries signed the exploration of the Aquifer for a value of 27 million dollars that will be controlled by the World Bank, with the help of the governments of Holland, Germany and by the Agency Atomic Energy Center of the OAS.

- In July 2004, the World Bank called for a tender for the development and preparation of the base map of the Guaraní aquifer -thanks to initiatives by Brazilian technicians- Companies from Canada, Brazil, South Africa and Spain presented themselves. It also arranged to deepen the studies in hydrogeochemistry, isotopy, geophysics, geology and uses of the resource. For the study of general hydrogeology, thermalism and elaboration of a regional model –operating since 2005-, companies from the United States, Spain, England, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Finland, Austria, Denmark, Canada, Japan and Israel presented. . Therefore, the idea of ​​Brazil served for the WB, through the companies presented, to take possession of the resource with the complicit silences of the Argentine, Uruguayan and Paraguayan governments.

- In addition, the World Bank has created a "Citizenship Fund" to promote courses and training events related to the Aquifer. Tenders have been called to grant this fund to organizations linked to the use of water, whether they are users, private or national, who can make their contributions to the project from the point of view in which the World Bank sees it. Within this framework, more than 80 projects have been presented, many of them prepared by national universities. At this point, it goes without saying that the research award contracts stipulate that the researchers respond directly to the WB and must abide by its directives and, furthermore, that the works produced will be the authorship and intellectual property shared between the WB, the OAS and the successful bidders of the projects.

- Likewise, a centralized data system is envisaged where all the information obtained on the physical, economic and social characteristics of the States involved must be collected. The results of the investigations will be processed and administered only by the World Bank.

5- Social and political problems

Taking into account what has been stated so far, we must place ourselves in what is known as “strategic management of resources” –both natural and energy-. For this reason, the privatization of the Aquifer is already underway and this is the first step towards the new appropriation of Latin America's natural resources by the United States and is the first important battle of the next war, that is, the war for the water and its control.

- Triple Frontier. Terrorism and Water.

According to CEMIDA, if “we take as a central nucleus the place called" Three Borders "'where Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay border and with no other objective than to give a general panorama of the area, the dominant feeling of an observer is that of being in the kingdom of river waters. The magnitude of the Paraná River in the area of ​​its confluence with the Iguazú, boosted immediately to the north by the enormous Itaipú dam with its deafening spillways and adorned to the east by the marvelous Iguazú Falls, forces us to think about the enormous wealth that constitute the surface waters in that place, the heart of the so-called Plata Basin, which not too far from there, adds the enormous basins of the Paraguay, Uruguay, Pilcomayo, Bermejo, Grande, Parapema, San Lorenzo, Apa, Negro and How many others that constitute a resource that, although little exploited, determines the potential of that region derived from its energy possibilities and the diversity of resources available from these potential communication routes ".

According to official data, the Three Borders area has a population of 470,000 inhabitants grouped in Puerto Iguazú (Argentina) 30,000, Foz do Iguazú (Brazil) 270,000 and Ciudad del Este (Paraguay) 170,000. It is also known that, in general, the three countries have in their three basic cities: Puerto Iguazú (Arg.), Foz do Iguazú (Br.) And Ciudad del Este (Py.), Elements of the national police in quantity more than enough, added to the availability of security forces (Gendarmerie, Prefecture), branches of intelligence agencies, customs police and private security agencies for hotels and other tourist agencies. Practically in a geographical space that is not too extensive and with a permanent population of moderate magnitude, the means of surveillance and security are more than sufficient to maintain almost absolute control of the area and its inhabitants and to immediately detect any significant anomaly. The immediate or almost immediate availability of military garrisons of regional importance, especially in Brazil and Paraguay and a little more distant in Argentina, are elements that help to complete the deterrents of criminals in the designated area, both common and political.

In Ciudad del Este, a relatively important Syrian-Lebanese community has settled and dedicated to commerce - which is its ancestral vocation - which carries out its activities very controlled and peacefully. She has been the recipient, together with the Arab community of Foz do Iguazú, of accusations like the one at hand and they say that, in this frame of reference, the complaints are not only irrelevant but also ridiculous. CEMIDA maintains that the unusual presence of US military personnel in the region, the proliferation of reports, always false, on the action of international terrorism from the Triple Border, the unfounded charges against the Arab community that lives there, the continuous combined exercises of the forces US military, together with the local ones, the continuous pressure towards the Argentine government aimed at the installation of a US military base in the province of Misiones are all maneuvers aimed at seizing the strategic resources of the region.

- Indigenous Rights and Territory

The indigenous populations that inhabit our territories are doubly affected by the water problem. On the one hand, the shortage of drinking water in the areas inhabited by them, on the other, the privatization of the resource and the land it occupies, can leave them stripped of the lands they have inhabited since ancient times.

Likewise, it should be noted that for indigenous people, water is an element not only of survival, but also of culture, which in many cases makes up the idiosyncrasy and identity of each people.

Another point to consider is the customary practices that these populations have carried out over the centuries and that have allowed them to develop amazing technologies aimed at creating farmland and hydraulic systems.

Currently, much of the indigenous knowledge is not used, its technologies are relegated and the populations that made it possible are marginalized.
We must be aware that responsible water management for the benefit of our peoples cannot, under any circumstances, exclude the rights that indigenous peoples have over the territories they have occupied.

- Resources and Free Trade and Sovereignty

Within the political implications that the legal regulation of water resources brings, we must focus mainly on the competent legal-arbitration bodies of international competence that incorporate free trade agreements, which implies a significant loss of sovereignty for our States.

The prevailing globalized neoliberal economic system struggles, through Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), in the chapters that refer to Competition, Investments, Dispute Resolution and intellectual property that:

a) The States cannot prevent the free access of private companies to the “service areas” -read: health, education-, technology, supplies, distribution channels, raw materials, water falls into this category-

b) National governments may take measures for the preservation of resources and plant, animal and human life as long as those measures do not constitute a disguised restriction on investment or trade.

c) If a dispute arises between the national government and the multinational company, the latter renounces to settle the conflict in their national territory. The company is the one chosen by the Arbitral Tribunal.


It has been my intention, in this brief report, to provide a concise overview of the EL GUARANI Aquifer System, and the consequences of the implementation of neoliberal policies on the management of our waters.

I maintain that only from society as a whole, by raising awareness about the importance of conserving the Aquifer for the needs of our peoples, will we be able to face international pressures that seek to impose the privatization of strategic resources in Latin America.

Our resources must be in our hands.

* Mariana Leonor Neves. UBA Lawyer. Researcher. FOCO collaborator.
Special Report 07/1 - Series: Special reports on the Monitoring Program for trade agreements and integration processes. Citizen Forum of Participation for Justice and Human Rights - FOCO - April 2007


The Social Surveillance Program for International Trade Agreements and
Integration processes that FOCO has developed since 2001 has as one of its main objectives to highlight the scope and impacts of multilateral, bilateral trade and investment agreements and others that since the nineties have become a central element of the globalization model at the service of large international corporations promoted by the central countries.

As is known in our country, the liberalization, privatization and indiscriminate opening policies developed by the Menem government gave rise to a true festival of these agreements, with more than fifty bilateral treaties signed and an actively militant position in favor of signing the FTAA promoted by the North American government. The failure of the policies sponsored by the Washington Consensus and faithfully applied by the Menemism, and the opening of a new political cycle in the continent, marked the end of the FTAA proposal, demanded by the social movement of the country and the region.

One of the issues of greatest concern throughout that decade was the preservation of the country's strategic resources seriously threatened to fall into the power of transnational companies with the complicity of the rulers of the time. In this context, the concern for the preservation of the Guaraní Aquifer acquires an importance of special significance due to the characteristics of the resource and the strategic value of its control to guarantee the right to life. As Dr. Neves' study highlights, the Guaraní Aquifer System (SAG) is one of the largest drinking water reservoirs in the world, stretching from central Brazil to the Argentine Pampas and flowing under part of Paraguay. and Uruguay.

This single characteristic is enough to demonstrate the strategic nature of the resource, which will increase over time as the water shortage becomes more serious. By 2025, more than 3 billion human beings - 80% in the "peripheral countries" - will suffer from water shortages. According to UN figures, in the year 2025, the problems that today fall on a fifth of the population will affect two out of every 3 inhabitants.

Faced with this panorama, our country and the countries that control the strategic reservoir of water that flows in its subsoil have the enormous responsibility of guaranteeing its preservation at the service of its population and humanity as a whole, preventing it from falling into the power of large corporations that transform the right to water and life in a new merchandise, at the exclusive service of those who can pay for it.

The document that we edited on this occasion, inaugurating the FOCO Special Report Series for 2007, has been prepared by Dr. Mariana Leonor Neves. Researcher and human rights activist who with this document begins her collaboration with FOCO.

Dr. Neves' report is a contribution that FOCO wants to disseminate to draw attention and alert the population and social and political organizations about the importance of the issue and the need to carry out active social surveillance of the policies and measures that guarantee its preservation at the service of the population and life on the planet.

Jorge Carpio - Executive Director - FOCO
Citizen Forum of Participation for Justice and Human Rights
INPADE program

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