Abe Keita (Franciscan priest)  

I was in Brazil from 22 January to 9 February on a private mission. I went there to attend an international conference and to meet Fr. Ogawa Mitsuru, a Japanese priest, missionary in Brazil.
Fr. Ogawa brought me around Pantanal that is located south of Mato Grosso do Sul where he does pastoral work. As it is well known Patanal is a big swamp low land that forms a basin in between the high mountains of Brazil and the Andes cordillera. UNESCO recorded it in the year 2000 as one of the World Natural Treasures. Pantanal’s size (230,000 square km) similar to the Honshu Island (Japan) stands on the boundaries of Brazil, Paraguay and Bolivia and it is difficult to explain its grandeur.
The natural scenery and variety of rare animals is beyond imagination. I saw there for the first time in my life crocodiles, capybara (largest world rats), otters and all kinds of colorful cockatoos and wild birds. The expression of their faces and the ecosystem are totally different from those in the zoos. According to Fr. Ogawa, 28 years ago when he first went to Brazil those roads were not fixed yet and when heavy rains arrived he could see crocodiles crossing the road; on clear days they will be sunning in the middle of the road. Now that roads are paved the scenery has totally changed.
Year after year this natural treasury of Pantanal is facing serious ecological problems. Experts consider that all this huge area might be reduced to a small size in a period of 10 to 20 years. The reasons are the ecological changes produced by agriculture methods, the use of large grass pasture and the paving going on in the swamping area. Chemical fertilizers widely used for farming and grass pasture produce changes in the structure of the land and water quality. The same can be said of factory building in the area. There is some opposition from the local residents and farmers but, since official departments at the local and national level promote development plans, the voices against are a minority.
Recently, some bills introduced in the State Congress have endangered Pantanal’s ecology. Jose Miranda, governor of Mato Grosso do Sul presented a bill to permit the construction of a new factory for the production of sugar with a distillery of alcohol by the Paraguay stream area.

Brazil' s Environment Agency criticized the program. In case the bill is voted upon sugar cane will be planted in the whole region, using large quantities of chemicals that will spoil the water of a wide swamp area. And as a result of the waste from the distillery of alcohol, most probably, the underground water streams will become polluted.
In the City of Campo Grande (Mato Grosso do Sul State) many demonstrated against the bill and some burnt themselves in protest with the results that the bill was rejected. Nevertheless, since energy resources are much in demand there are proposals everywhere to build new alcohol distilleries. The reason behind is that Brazil has a potentiality of becoming the largest supplier in the world for alcohol. The government has a program to export large quantities of alcohol as energy resource in the future. The actual production of alcohol is about 18 billion liters and counting on the reform and new construction of more distilleries official figures claim that Brazil will have a yearly production of 25 billion liters. The world is watching closely such Brazilian programs.
Economic development and the exploitation of new energy are like a double-edged sword that brings profitable results as well as produces a total destruction of nature. Local residents, though being minority groups, oppose the execution of such development, and it is, because of such grass-rooted efforts, that the global environment can some how be kept alive. Such ecological dangers came down firmly to me while I was watching the magnificent and beautiful nature of Pantanal.
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