The Gran Chaco Americano is a hot and semi-arid area that spans across parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. This region is experiencing growing water stress due to deforestation and climate change. The Investigación para el Desarollo (ID) in Paraguay is working in collaboration with partners from Argentina and Bolivia to better understand the socio-economic impacts of water stress on production systems within the Gran Chaco region. The Think Tank Initiative interviewed Rossana Scribano, Director of ID’s Climate and Natural Resources Department, to learn more about this work.

[Editor’s note: This is the fourth post in a series on think tanks and climate change edited by Nikki Lulham and Erika Malich. This post is an interview with Maria Rossana Scribano, Director of the Climate and Natural Resources Department at the Investigación para el Desarollo (ID)in Paraguay, about an IDRC-funded research project she is leading. ID is one of 43 policy research institutions that receive support from the Think Tank Initiative.] 

Think Tank Initiative (TTI): Tell us about your research project “Valuing water in a changing climate and economy in the Gran Chaco Americano.” What problem is the project trying to address and why?

Rossana Scribano (RS): The Gran Chaco region has below average rainfall compared with other parts of South America, has a highly variable climate, and experiences both floods and droughts on a periodic basis. Soil erosion, over-exploitation and the resulting salinization of groundwater, and excessive livestock grazing are just a few of the factors that are further contributing to the region’s vulnerability. Water stress is limiting the development of the Gran Chaco region. Historic trends for precipitation and water use must be taken into consideration, combined with an analysis of future climate scenarios, to help guide long-term decisions on water management in the region.

The idea for this research stemmed from an earlier project, which concluded that in-depth knowledge is needed on the relationship between water and economic production to ensure sustainable water supplies. The “Valuing water” project does just this, with a focus on the most important economic activities within the Gran Chaco region – namely agriculture, livestock, forestry, and hydrocarbon extraction. We already know that water is a factor limiting production in the area, and is closely associated with climate variability. This project looks deeper into these connections.

TTI: How will the research provide solutions to these problems? What are the objectives and desired outcomes?

RS: There is very little information available on water use for different economic activities in the Gran Chaco region. It is also not clear how these activities might be affected by climate change, and which public policies would be best suited to limit negative impacts. The general objective of the research is to help bridge this knowledge gap. For example, the project will involve evaluating and quantifying water use in different productive systems (e.g. agriculture, livestock grazing, etc.), as well as assessing the overall socio-economic impacts of climate change on water resources of the Gran Chaco Americano. Furthermore, we will design a comprehensive tool for use by the public and private sectors in identifying potential adaptation measures and to help inform  evidence-based decisions. 

TTI: Who is expected to benefit from this research and how?

RS: The main beneficiaries of this work will include decision-makers in national and local governments, the private sector, and the general population living in the region. We expect that our findings will help to improve efficient use of water resources in the Gran Chaco area.

TTI: What value does a think tank provide in addressing this type of problem?

RS: ID’s contribution to addressing the problems described above is an important one. ID is the lead institution for this research project and, as mentioned earlier, is working closely with a number of partners from across the region as part of a research consortium. We are collectively strengthening our capacities to carry out collaborative research, and are growing by learning how to best take advantage of our strengths and weaknesses, which are very much complementary.

All of the institutions belonging to the consortium are well-known for their expertise in different research areas, including deforestation, vulnerability analysis, climate change adaptation, etc. Together, we are supporting and strengthening the development of the Gran Chaco Americano region by informing the design of better policies and business practices, through regular engagement with policymakers at different levels. Also, the decision-making tool that we are developing through this project will highlight water consumption patterns and trends by different economic sectors, and will help to ensure better management of water resources, while also contributing to regional development. 

TTI: What were some of the benefits of collaborating with other institutions from across the Gran Chaco region on this project?

RS: The Gran Chaco region spans across four different countries, and our multi-country project team includes members from three research institutions: the Universidad Nacional de Formosa (UNaF) in Argentina, the Fundacion de la Cordillera in Bolivia, and Investigación Para el Desarrollo (ID) in Paraguay, where I work. Our research is greatly enriched by the complementary nature of the professionals who make up the project team, in terms of their respective disciplines and specialities. For example, developing input-output tables required the collaboration of economists, hydrologists, meteorologists and climate change modellers, environmental professionals, agronomists, veterinarians, and anthropologists, among others.

The project team is essentially a professional and institutional structure, with each institution making a major contribution to the research. Collectively, we represent the Knowledge Centre for the Gran Chaco Americano, a platform created by the United Nations Environment Programme within the Regional Gateway for Technology Transfer and Climate Change Action program in Latin America and the Caribbean.

TTI: What other stakeholders did you engage with during this project and why?

RS: We interacted with many different stakeholders throughout the project, including with national and local authorities, scientific experts, private sector enterprises, and public institutions – all of whom provided us with technical support and information. Within the Paraguayan Chaco, specifically, we engaged with local Mennonite communities who provided crucial information about water needs for agriculture and livestock rearing, and insights into water collection systems used during periods of drought. We also engaged with indigenous communities, technical professionals from localproduction cooperatives, and also with local authorities. Interactions with all of the above groups strongly helped to validate the information we collected throughout the research phase.

TTI: What are some of the preliminary findings and/or outcomes of the research thus far? Are there any exciting possibilities for the future?

RS: The project has generated information that will be helpful for regulating water use in the region, and has also identified knowledge gaps relating to employment, deforestation, and how carbon stocks fluctuate as a result of growth and during climate extremes. The results to date help to illustrate socioeconomic differences in water demand for economic activities within each country. This data has been collected into a large database, which outlines water consumption and prices for different economic sectors and activities across the three countries included in this project.

Our findings are expected to equip decision-makers and key stakeholders with information that will help to establish guidelines for improving regional development policies and strategies. For instance, as part of the dissemination efforts for this project, we participated in the Third Global Meeting of the Gran Chaco Americano, a forum bringing together researchers, decision-makers, and civil society representatives to collectively take action on addressing climate change and water stress in this region. Also, we were invited to participate in a workshop organized by the National Emergency Secretariat of Paraguay, along with other organizations working on issues relating to the Paraguayan Chaco, to develop a joint action plan for decreasing the negative impacts of drought in this region. 

Overall, this research is contributing to the development of better policies and practices for the Gran Chaco region, resulting in more efficient use of a resource that is absolutely critical for both economic development and human survival. 

Learn more about this project:

  • Visit the project webpage [in Spanish]
  • Read about ID’s participation in the third world meeting of the Chaco Region, held in Villa Montes, Bolivia from June 13-16, 2016 [in Spanish]
  • Read about how the project team engaged with the student winners of the national science fair [in Spanish]