“Everything goes to the rivers:” sharing responsibility to reduce pollution in Bolivia’s Pilcomayo River

Mining, government, and community members are accepting responsibility to reduce pollution in the Pilcomayo River, a main water source for communities in Bolivia. CLWR/A.Aguillon

CLWR’s program director Elaine Peters and Abdon Aguillon, CLWR’s program manager for Latin America & the Caribbean, were inspired by a meeting they attended in Bolivia earlier this year. In attendance were four municipality mayors, representatives from a Bolivian miners’ association and a Bolivian mining mills association, and a group of community members affected by the water pollution that mining causes in the region. The community group was created with the assistance of PRODEC, a Bolivian NGO that CLWR supports in its work with rural communities, in order for them to advocate for and secure their rights to clean water.

They were meeting to discuss contamination in the Pilcomayo, a major river that is a source of water for this community group, as well as many others. They work together with the government and mining representatives to monitor minerals in the water. Their vigilance has created such an improvement in pollution levels that farmers who were struggling to produce crops several years ago due to polluted water now have good, healthy produce again.

This group has gone so far that they’ve become members of another working group that addresses the whole of the Pilcomayo River, which runs through three countries: Bolivia, Paraguay, and Argentina.

But what is really inspiring, says Abdon, is how all members at the table acknowledge their responsibility for the contamination in the river. It is not only mining that causes pollution. Run-off from crop chemicals get into the water. Community members who aren’t recycling or properly disposing of their garbage can also contaminate water.

They realize that “everything goes to the rivers.”

To help remedy this, farmers are moving to organic methods of crop production, and recycling and composting programs are being put into place.

Read more about CLWR’s work in Bolivia here.

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