With support from the Ecumenical Small Projects Fund, community based organisations are working to find solutions to some of the biggest challenges they face – producing food for a stable and balanced diet in a region prone to drought and flooding, and protecting the delicate eco-system of the Chaco from further environmental degradation.
The fund is a joint initiative of ACT members Church World Service (http://www.cwsglobal.org/) and the Regional Ecumenical Advisory and Service Centre (CREAS http://www.creas.org/ingles/index_en.htm),which joined forces to help strengthen civil society in the South American Gran Chaco. CWS has been accompanying organisations in this region for more than 20 years while CREAS has wide experience of the management of Small Projects Funds.
Spanning Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina, it is the only tri-national fund of its kind in the region. The objective is to strengthen the ability of civil society organisations in the South American Chaco to confront the conditions of poverty and inequality in the region and promote human rights.
Income generating activities, environmental justice, support for new and emerging civil society organisations, promoting aid quality and accountability and protecting human rights defenders are the five thematic areas supported by the fund.
The Pozo Hondo Community Development Organization, Paraguay, is a new initiative created in 2012 by the inhabitants of this small border town along the Pilcomayo River. Without electricity or communications services, the 50 families of Pozo Hondo live in conditions of isolation and food insecurity. Recurrent flooding of the banks of the Pilcomayo River where the soil is most favourable for fruit and vegetable production has made it impossible for the families to produce these essential foods. With support from the fund, the Community Development Organization will launch a pilot project to install electric fences and a drip irrigation system so that families can develop kitchen gardens on higher ground.
“This is an initiative of group of inhabitants of the town dedicated to investing time, resources and effort in a pilot project,” says Verena Friessen of the Pozo Hondo Community Development Organization. “The aim is to improve family income in the short term but we hope the project will have a multiplying effect in the long term, improving the living standards of the whole community.”
Chronic drought underscores need to protect environment
Across the border in Argentina, the Qom indigenous community of Río Salado has faced months of chronic drought. The municipal government has been delivering water to fill tanks for human consumption, but this does not resolve the grave situation of drinking water for the animals which are the main source of food and income for the community. The river which also provided an important diet of fish has completely dried up – a phenomenon even the elders of Río Salado say they have never witnessed. The Fund is supporting the community to locate subterranean water sources to provide drinking water for their livestock. Using ancestral indigenous knowledge they will identify sites where water of acceptable quality may be available, drill the ground and try water samples before installing a hand pump for its extraction.
Aware that much of the recent phenomenon of chronic drought and mass flooding can be attributed to deforestation and climate change the Advisory Council of Guarani Leaders (CCGT) is working with a coalition of organisations to protect and preserve a region of iímense biodiversity in the Bolivian Chaco. Serranía Aguaragüe has been designated a National Park and Natural Area for Integrated Management.
Founded in 2001, the CCGT has played a key role in the defence of Guaraní indigenous rights in the Tarija area of the Bolivian Chaco in particular their right to land and autonomous management of natural resources. With the support from the Fund, the CCGT will generate a process of education and awareness-raising on the need for greater social control over decisions and actions related to the environment and the importance of conserving the Serranía Aguargue National Park. In the video, Guaraní communities share their experiences, knowledge and concerns about environmental issues and illustrate the importance of community participation in the management of the unique eco-systems of the Chaco.
Photo: Guaraní indigenous woman in the Serranía Aguarague National Park, a region of immense biodiversity where ACT members support community-based conservation initiatives (ACT CWS Paul Jeffrey)
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