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Water conflicts in the São Francisco River basin in Brazil

April 2008

We have documented several cases of land conflicts in Brazil, a country of considerable territorial dimensions. Land conflicts are not the only contradiction in the largest South American economy. Brazil is also facing a growing problem of water conflicts, despite the fact that Brazil holds 8% of the world’s freshwater reserves.

Free translation from the Landless Workers Movement (MST’s) website

According to the annual report on violence in the Brazilian countryside launched by the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), over 40% of the conflicts over water have taken place in the São Francisco watershed. In the last year, 40 water conflicts were documented in Brazil and 17 of them happened in the areas where channels and aqueducts will be built through the São Francisco Watershed Transposition Project.

According to a member of the national coordination body of CPT, José Batista, “the watershed transposition project has influence [in those conflicts], as the new water infrastructures will cut through several states in the Brazilian Northeastern region generating inevitable conflicts with communities that are being displaced from their lands and see themselves being pushed away from a natural common good. In this case, water.”

Some cases in 2007 highlight the problem. In June of last year, approximately 1,500 peasants, small scale farmers, indigenous people, and members of non-governmental organizations occupied the construction site on the Mãe Rosa farm, in Cabrobó to protest the project. The demonstration led by the Trukás (an indigenous ethnic group) demanded the demarcation of the land as indigenous territory out of concern that the transposition project has not taken into consideration the land rights of the tribe. The Brazilian Army was called to suppress the protest.

José Batista emphasized that the facts stated in the CPT report do not include the conflicts in the Amazon region. The CPT member said that the organization does not have the resources to collect the data in that region, which also has its share of land and water-related conflicts.

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