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 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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