By Nikhil Aziz
September 18th, 2006
By Jake Miller
October 11th, 2005
Following an eleven-day hunger strike, Brazilian bishop Dom Luiz Cappio called an end to his protest, having won key concessions from the government to postpone the planned re-routing of the Rio S
Thousands of supporters turned out to celebrate Dom Luiz's birthday with him yesterday, as he continues his hunger strike against the re-routing of the São Francisco River.
Here's an AP story on the demonstrations. It's good that the reporter focuses on the environmental damage that re-routing the river will cause (which will likely include increased deforestation, sedimentation and habitat loss for wildlife and fisheries stock) but it's disappointing that he takes at face value the government's claims that 18 million people will benefit from the project.
Independent experts who have analyzed the plan suggest that the number who actually receive water from the project will be much smaller than that, and experience with similar projects around the world suggest that the long term consequences of mega-projects like this can be catastrophic not only for the environment in some abstract sense, but for the livelihoods and lives of the people who live in the area. Not exactly what I would call a benefit.
It is the seventh day of Dom Luiz's hunger strike to protect the São Francisco River from a potentially catastrophic "Watershed Transposition" project that the Brazilian government wants to implement in the country's arid northeast. He is growing weak, but is determined to continue his hunger strike.
Dom Luiz is a Franciscan Bishop who lives at the margin of the São Francisco river in a town called Cabrobo (ca-bro-boh), in the northeastern state of Pernambuco. He has been a strong advocate of the revitalization of the river and a strong voice during the public hearings about the plan to re-distribute the water of the river using a series of dams and canals. In a letter to the people of the northeast, he stated the problems of the project and appealed to the families from the four states that are supposed to benefit from this mega project: "If the São Francisco river was not dying and the watershed transposition were the best solution to end your thirst, I would not be in disagreement and would fight with you for it."
When an activist is murdered for organizing resistance to powerful interests, it can be much easier to simply think about the crime as a human rights crime in the narrowest sense of the term. It's easy to forget that what the activist was fighting for in many cases wasn't political freedom per se, but for those other categories of rights that sometimes seem hard to understand: social and economic rights like the right to define a culture of one's own, and to have enough food and water and land to support a dignified living.
A few weeks ago, this news alert came through my inbox from International Rivers Network:
This morning we visited the community of Lawob, where, with a grant from the European Union, the Peasant Movement of Papaye (MPP) has constructed a small dam to capture the water from an intermittent stream.
This deep into the drought there was not sign of the stream, anywhere. When we arrived at the site, we saw a small blue and black rowboat sitting under a mango tree in the middle of what looks like a desert. The lake was out of sight until we walked down a winding path, but before we got could even see the water, it was obvious that there was something special about this place.
Flitting through the air were half a dozen Antillean Palm Swifts, tiny little insect eaters with pointy wings. They are supposed to be ubiquitous in Haiti, and these were the first I had seen after three days of looking. Downstream from the small lake was a lush garden that was greener than anything we've seen since we arrived in Haiti. (Most of the plants we have seen are covered with a fine layer of dust.)