Water Rights

     Water 
Rights

    Vast
    areas of Brazilian land have been and are still being expropriated
    so that large hydroelectric dams can be built to generate energy
    for industries. One million people have been forced off their
    lands due to dam constructions. Now, those affected by dams
    started their own movement to fight this trend.
    by:
    Kirsten Weinoldt

     

    The
    United Nations has declared the year 2003 as the "Year of Fresh
    Waters". In Brazil, many groups struggle to preserve and protect
    the water; however, the building of dams has greatly affected the quality
    and accessibility of the liquid. In Brazil, the Movimento dos Atingidos
    por Barragens (Movement of those Affected by Dams) is in the forefront
    of this battle for fresh water.

    The
    Brazilian movement is part of the International Rivers Network and helps
    local communities to support their rivers and to encourage equitable
    and sustainable river development projects. In the 1970’s, Brazil initiated
    the construction of large hydroelectric dams in order to generate energy
    for industries. Vast areas of land were expropriated.

    Still
    today, more than 20 million Brazilians do not have electricity; 60 percent
    of these families are in rural areas. In addition, one million people
    have been forced off their lands due to dam constructions. Three and
    a half million hectares of land have been flooded. Those affected by
    dams include small farmers, indigenous peoples, river-dwelling populations,
    quilombo (former slave colonies) communities, and urban dwellers.

    Many
    of these people lost their cultural roots because of their expulsion
    from the land but have now organized to struggle for resettlement on
    new land as well as indemnity. Their goal is to help current groups
    affected by dam construction remain on their lands and to preserve nature
    with an energy policy that takes human and environmental needs into
    consideration.

    Many
    studies conclude that dams do not attain their promised objectives—they
    produce less energy, generate less water, and irrigate fewer areas than
    promised. They normally are more expensive and take a longer amount
    of time to construct than is projected. Along with this, dams have not
    contributed to equitable or sustainable development; in contrast, they
    have increased misery and social inequality among the peoples affected
    by their construction.

    The
    construction of dams in Brazil has met the economic and political interests
    of dominant and elite national and international groups as well as the
    interests of electric companies and dam-construction industries. There
    are many viable alternatives to dams that have fewer social and environmental
    costs and that lead to the better administration of water resources.

    Current
    struggles among Brazilian peoples negatively affected by dam construction
    include the following groups:

    Uhe
    Itaparica – 6,050 families in Barra do Tarrachil, Pedra Branca.

    Uhe
    Ita – approximately 400 families in the states of Rio Grande do Sul,
    Paraná and Santa Catarina.

    The
    Movement of Those Affected by Dams has had some success in resettling
    people and halting the construction of new dams. However, the struggle
    to resettle populations or to stop the construction continues in many
    states including São Paulo, Mato Grosso do Sul, Goiás
    Tocantins, Amazônia, and Pará.

    Participants
    in the II Pan-Amazon Forum, held in Belém, Pará state,
    in mid January, approved the following text to be used in connection
    with the Campaign Waters without Dams.

    "We,
    rural and urban workers, indigenous peoples, natural resource gatherers,
    and river populations from Pará, Maranhão, and Tocantins
    states, participants in the Campaign Waters without Dams in the Amazon
    basin, analyzed at a recent meeting in Imperatriz, Maranhão,
    together with 160 people from 66 organizations, the projects for energy
    generation included in the Advance Brazil program of the federal government,
    and their relationship with mineral exploitation and agro-business plantations,
    in the Araguaia-Tocantins and Xingu basins.

    According
    to data from the map of hydroelectric potential (Eletrobrás,
    1999) and of the Inter-American Development Bank, a total of 55 dams
    are planned for our rivers, with 40 planned for the Tocantins and its
    tributaries (31 large dams and 9 small dams), 10 for the Araguaia river
    and the rio das Mortes, and 5 for the Xingu River.

    Four
    of these are already in operation (Tucuruí, Serra da Mesa, Lageado
    and Cana Brava), one is currently in construction (Peixe-Angical), four
    more are in the licensing process (Santa Isabel, Couto Magalhães,
    São Salvador and Estreito) and, for 2003, 10 more large dams
    are planned to be offered to private investors (Belo Monte, Marabá,
    Serra Quebrada, Araguanã, Ipueiras, Tupiratins, Maranhão,
    Torixoréu, Novo Acordo and Mirador).

    Besides
    these dams, other large-scale projects are being planned, or are already
    being implanted in the region, including construction of the Araguaia-Tocantins
    Hidrovia and more than 10 agrobusiness projects, which will have cumulative
    impacts on the human populations of the region and the environment.

    An
    example of the negative impacts brought to the Amazon region with the
    implantation of these projects can be taken from Tucuruí and
    Lageado dams:

    * Disappearance
    of fish species (surubim, dourado, jaú etc), which are
    the basis for the diet of local populations, given the great quantity
    of biomass rotting in the water and the appearance of aquatic plants,
    which obstruct creeks; damming of rivers with the resultant impacts
    on the reproductive cycle of fish;

    * Expulsion
    of affected populations from their homes and lands, without guarantees
    of a minimal infrastructure needed for their dignified survival;

    * Loss
    of lands which bring life, employment, and cultural identity for traditional
    populations (indigenous peoples, riverbank dwellers, babaçu
    palm nut gatherers, etc.)

    * Loss
    of biodiversity, of the productive capacity of farms downstream and
    proliferation of mosquitoes in affected areas and in the region;

    * Swelling
    of slums in nearby cities and an increase in urban violence and unemployment;

    * Climate
    impacts, especially regarding rainfall and temperature;

    Even
    after having experienced all these problems, the same errors are being
    made. The Environmental Impact Assessments which were or are being produced
    for these dam projects in the region do not take the local population
    into account, present technical discrepancies, and are based upon fragmented
    studies which fail to consider the cumulative impacts of multiple dams
    in the basin.

    It
    is necessary and urgent to think of other alternatives for energy generation,
    based upon clean energy sources, such as wind, biomass, and solar, besides
    the reduction of losses in the current electrical system and the retrofitting
    of dams already in operation.

    Faced
    with this situation, the organizations present at the meeting reaffirm
    their commitment to the preservation of the rivers, ecosystems, and
    their respect for local populations in the Araguaia-Tocantins and Xingu
    basins, and they propose:

    (I)
    the opening of a discussion with the government team so as to propose
    a moratorium on licensing and construction of dam projects in the region
    so that, through an evaluation of the cumulative impacts of these dams
    and of alternatives to them, the country’s energy policy may be revised,
    so that there will be an end to the damages suffered by local populations
    and the environment;

    (II)
    the launching of a Congressional investigation to investigate the impacts
    and human rights and environmental violations caused by the construction
    and functioning of hydroelectric dams in the Amazon basin, taking measures
    to correct these;

    (III)
    to promote policies in the area of science and technology for research
    on clean energy sources and alternative forms of energy generation.

     

    This
    material was supplied by Sejup, which has its own Internet site:
    http://www.oneworld.net/sejup
     

     

     

     

     

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