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A new water treatment plant transforms life for a community in the Pantanal

Because 'clean water is everything'

Margarita Gayoso Aguirre, community leader in Isla Margarita

MARGARITA ISLAND, Paraguay — Before the water treatment facility was built on Margarita Island, the 350 residents of the tiny Paraguayan community drank straight from the Paraguay River.

Pollutants, dumped by fishermen, tourists and cargo ships, as well as farms and factories located along the river, made kids sick, and stained their clothes with mud. The Paraguay River—a twisting and turning marker of the border that runs between Paraguay and Brazil—is the main waterway of the Pantanal. It’s a source of life and livelihood for many. But for the residents of Margarita Island living downriver meant they not only ingested what was discarded by those in their own community, but also by those upstream and on higher ground in Brazil and Bolivia.

Some families purchased chemicals to treat the river water in their own homes so that they could drink it, but the process was time-consuming and the chemicals too expensive for most to purchase on a regular basis.

In 2015, the nonprofit Pro Comunidades Indígenas (PCI) offered to help the people of Margarita Island to create their own water treatment facility. Though they already had a water committee, the residents jumped at the chance to address the problem at a larger scale. With help from PCI, and funds provided by WWF, the community would now have the resources and trainings to make a significant difference.

“Getting clean water to my community has always been my main goal,” says Margarita Gayoso, head of the island’s water committee. “We can live without a lot of things, but not without water.”

Accessing the materials to build the water tank and pipe system to the island wasn’t easy. Flooding had washed out the one road that came closest to the community, and the only option was to bring them through Brazil before crossing the river by boat.

Today the facility is up and running. Strategically built on high ground to protect against flooding, the plant treats the water and then distributes it to the single tap in each of the community’s homes. With a capacity of 60,000 liters per day, the tank holds four times what the community needs, providing enough clean water for drinking and basic sanitation. Now with regular access to water, community members have strengthened skills related to sustainable water practices and public participation in governance.

The Pantanal’s complex and interconnected nature is what makes it so rich with biodiversity and natural resources, but it’s also what makes it so challenging to conserve and develop sustainably. More than 1,200 rivers and streams converge to form the Pantanal, including the free-flowing Paraguay River so the impacts that occur in one area have a cascading impact across the entire region.

WWF partners with farmers and ranchers, the private sector, communities and local and national governments in Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay to ensure development is sustainably planned and the ecosystem services that fuel economic growth and natural vitality are protected.

Margarita Island is a strong example of how human-made impacts upstream affect communities and livelihoods downstream. People and wildlife across the entire landscape benefit when economic needs are met with sustainable solutions at the local level.

“This [water treatment facility] has given the families here a quality of life they didn’t have before,” says Gayoso. “It’s something that will help our community grow. People will choose to stay here now. Clean water is everything.”