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Brazil’s water and energy mega-grab

“Anytime a new wall is built, hundreds of acres of forest and fertile land for food production is flooded. Anytime a new wall is built, a river dies. The death of the rivers is the end of our livelihood” – José Josivaldo, Movement of People Affected by Dams, National Coordination body member

The hugely profitable business of building dams has taken the Amazon region by storm. One hundred-forty new dams will be built in the Amazon in the next years. The lion’s share will be in Brazil, spurred on by its booming economy, but the Amazonian regions of Bolivia, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, French Guyana and Guyana are also targeted by the industry. At stake are huge swathes of the Amazonian ecosystem, not to mention tens of thousands of indigenous people and peasants, many of whom have lived there for centuries.

That is why thousands of families affected by the dams are rallying today in Brazil’s main cities to protest what they see as a reckless assault on the environment and the livelihoods of Amazonian residents. March 14 is the International Day of Struggle against the Dams and in Defense of Rivers, and a rallying call for dam-affected families across the world. In Brazil, the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB), a major organizer of the protest movement and a Grassroots International partner, says the protesters are demanding major changes to Brazil’s national policy on dam-building. Unions from the petroleum and energy industries have joined in the protests.

The U.N.’s World Hydroelectric Dam Commission estimates that 80 million people have been displaced directly and indirectly by the construction of dams around the world.. In Brazil, more than one million people have been displaced from their land so far because of dams, according to MAB. Seventy percent have not received any compensation or support for finding jobs, rebuilding their homes, or replacing their land so that they can continue farming. As a result, many families migrate to cities where they face unemployment, food insecurity and homelessness.

Ricardo Montagner of MAB’s national coordinating committee says they will present two main demands to the Brazilian government. First, Brazil’s rivers and waters must stay in the hands of the Brazilian people. The government’s privatization of water, and energy production systems has resulted in the massive loss of sovereign control over the critical natural resources of water, land and energy. Brazil has in effect handed over billions of dollars in energy subsidies to mining companies and other extractive industries. And secondly, the government must protect and vigorously enforce the constitutional rights of families to their land, water, housing and food.

Large dams mostly favor extractive industries to the detriment of local communities. According to Montagner, mining companies pay three cents per kilowatt of electricity in Brazil, while families pay 50 cents per kilowatt, one of the highest rates in the world.

MAB hopes that today’s marches will push the government towards a more human and environmentally friendly energy policy for Brazil that doesn’t cater to the demands of the dam industry at the expense of communities and ecosystems. “Our task is to build resistance to these dams, and advocate for new models of energy production,” summarizes Montagner.

MAB is a member of Via Campesina International and the Latin American Network of People Affected by Dams (REDLAR).