Allies for the integrated management of inland water bodies and coasts in Rio de Janeiro

By: Aikaterini Tsakanika

The UNDP World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre) participated in the V Meeting of the Watershed Committees of the state of Rio de Janeiro (V ECOB- RJ 2017) in Paraty. This preparatory meeting was organized ahead of the XIX ENCOB 2017 and the 8th Water Forum in 2018, for the elaboration of joint approaches and positions on: the interface of the coastal and water resources management regimes, the seawater intrusion into inland water bodies and the competencies of the watershed committees in the coastal management under the Brazilian law.

If we want to protect our territories, we need to acknowledge their value first!

The idea that all stakeholders need to know their territory in depth to defend it better was a consensus among the V ECOB-RJ participants. The RIO+ Centre also defends this view and employs creative means to highlight the value of the fragile ecosystems and to motivate local stakeholders to prevent irreversible damage from pollution and climate change. In this context, the trailer of Ricardo Gomes’ documentary ‘Urban Bay, co-produced with the RIO+ Centre to inform on the value of the resilient and extraordinary biodiversity of Guanabara Bay, was presented during the first-round table dedicated to the integration of the water resources and coastal management.

Integration of water resources and coastal management

The integration of the multiple uses of water basins and coasts is a matter of great importance to most hydrographic regions of Rio de Janeiro, especially in Sepetiba, Ilha Grande and Guanabara bays. In this process of mind-set change, the participants of the first round-table tracked the reverse path of the plastic and the sewage found at the coasts of Rio de Janeiro, only to reconfirm the inherent, yet complex, interdependence of the inland water systems with the coastal and marine ecosystems. They also acknowledged that an integrated management regime includes challenging and controversial tasks, such as the definition of the territorial reference points for the action area of the watershed committees.

During this first round-table, Helen Rolim, coordinator of the BIG Project (Projeto BIG in Portuguese) exemplified good integration practices with the managing institutions of the BIG Project, the State Institute for the Environment (INEA) and the watershed committee that is representing the Ilha Grande Basin (CBH-BIG), for incorporating and promoting the integrated coastal management concept as means to achieve, by 2050, the long-term goal of conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial and marine biodiverse ecosystems. She also added that the same scale of analysis for the Coastal Ecological and Economic Zoning (ZEEC in Portuguese) and the State Water Action Plans was adopted by defining the coastal sectors as action areas -considering both the territorial sea and the inland water bodies within the respective territory.

The national institutional instrument for land use planning and definition of the marine and territorial band  (Projeto Orla) was also emphasized as means for planning and implementing integrated management regimes. Yet, workshops that intended to identify demands and provide technical support at municipal level had little appeal to the watershed committees that were absent from the dialogue. As it was revealed during the debate following the panel presentations, the participative processes were abruptly discontinued when the financial responsibility shifted from the federal government to the municipalities that did not authorize resources originally destined for the watershed committees.

Leaving no one behind

In Brazil, there is a solid legal basis for the empowerment and citizens’ participation but it is still necessary to integrate all levels of action by taking advantage of synergies among representative bodies. Watershed committees being the representative bodies that best understand the reality of their local territories within the state can become ideal allies in this process . Their inputs and participation in policy-making processes need to be institutionally reinforced and legitimized by securing equal representation of gender and social groups, especially indigenous people and other traditional groups that have an intrinsic socio-cultural relation with their surrounding environment.

In this vein, Eliane Barbosa and Livia Soalheiro, representing the Secretary of Environment in Rio de Janeiro (SEA-RJ), urged the state councils to carry on their commitments at this moment of conflict and under-representation, and reminded us the value of the political and social resistance of the watershed committees despite practical obstacles. Accordingly, the final resolution of the V ECOB-RJ reinforced the idea that stakeholders of Rio de Janeiro need to meet on an annual basis to consolidate networks and coordinate better their work in view of the gradual decline of financial support from the federal government.

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©UNDP/Aikaterini Tsakanika