Brazilian Dam Causes Too Much or Too Little Water in Amazon Villages

A chicken coop in the village of Miratu, flooded because the Xingu River rose much more than was announced by Norte Energía, the company that built and operates the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, whose main reservoir is some 20 km upstream from the Juruna community in Brazil’s northern Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

A chicken coop in the village of Miratu, flooded because the Xingu River rose much more than was announced by Norte Energía, the company that built and operates the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, whose main reservoir is some 20 km upstream from the Juruna community in Brazil’s northern Amazon jungle region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

By Mario Osava
ALTAMIRA, Brazil, Apr 1 2017 (IPS)

The Juruna indigenous village of Miratu mourned the death of Jarliel twice: once on October 26, when he drowned in the Xingu River, and the second time when the sacred burial ground was flooded by an unexpected rise in the river that crosses Brazil’s Amazon region.

Their cries are also of outrage against the Norte Energía company, the concession-holder for the Belo Monte hydroelectric dam, which determines the water flow in the Volta Grande stretch of the Xingu River, a 100-km area divided in three municipalities, with five indigenous villages along the riverbanks.

Jarliel Juruna, 20, was very good at what he did: catch ornamental fish, which have been increasingly scarce since the dam was inaugurated in November 2015. Apparently the need to dive deeper and deeper to find fish and help support his family contributed to the fatal accident, according to his siblings Jailson and Bel.

The company had ensured that the rise in water level in that area would be moderate, since the flow was divided between the Volta Grande and a canal built to feed the main Belo Monte generating plant, near the end of the curve in the river known as Volta Grande or Big Bend.

The markers showing how high the water would rise were surpassed early this year, due to heavy rains and a limited diversion of the water to be used by the hydroelectric plant, which will be the third largest in the world in terms of capacity once it is completed in 2019.

The unexpected rise also caused material losses. Boats and equipment were carried away by the high water. “My manioc crop was flooded, even though it was on land higher than the markers,” said Aristeu Freitas da Silva, a villager in Ilha da Fazenda.

Despite the excess of water, this village of 50 families is suffering a lack of drinking water.

“The river is dirty, we drink water from a well that we dug. The three wells drilled by Norte Energía don’t work because the water pump broke eight months ago,” said Miguel Carneiro de Sousa, a boatman hired by the municipality to ferry students to a nearby school.

The school in Ilha da Fazenda only goes up to fourth grade, and in Brazil education is compulsory up to the ninth grade.

Bel Juruna, a Juruna indigenous leader from the village of Miratu along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. The 25-year-old woman is an impressive defender of indigenous rights, against the Belo Monte hydropower plant and inefficient government authorities, in this territory in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Bel Juruna, a Juruna indigenous leader from the village of Miratu along the Volta Grande of the Xingu River. The 25-year-old woman is an impressive voice in the defence of indigenous rights, against the Belo Monte hydropower plant and inefficient government authorities, in this territory in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Deiby Cardoso, deputy mayor of Senador José Porfirio, one of the municipalities in Volta Grande, admitted that water supply is a municipal responsibility, and promised that the problem would be resolved by late April.

He did so during a Mar. 21 public hearing organised by the public prosecutor’s office in the city of Altamira, to address problems affecting Volta Grande. IPS attended the hearing as part of a one-week tour of riverbank and indigenous villages in this area.

Taking over the Xingu River for energy purposes, to the detriment of its traditional users, such as indigenous and riverine peoples, has cost Norte Energía many obligations and complaints in its area of influence in the northern state of Pará, where local people sometimes confuse its role with that of the government.

The company is required to carry out a plan for compensation and mitigation of social and environmental impacts, with conditional targets, and the number of complaints about non-compliance is increasing.

Local residents of Ilha da Fazenda had reasons to complain at the hearing. The health post is filthy and abandoned, the ambulance boat has a broken motor, and the electricity produced by the village generator is only available from 6:00 to 10:00 PM.

The deputy mayor accepted the complaints about the delays, which he said were due to the short period that the municipal government has been in power, since January.

The dilapidated, unkempt health post in Ilha da Fazenda, one of the villages on the banks of the Xingu River affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, in the state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The unkempt health post in Ilha da Fazenda, one of the villages on the banks of the Xingu River affected by the construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, in the state of Pará in Brazil’s Amazon region. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

But holding the key to the Xingu River, opening or closing spillways and activating or shutting off its turbines, Norte Energía dictates the water level downstream, especially in the Volta Grande. At the hearing, it seemed clear that they do it without considering the human and environmental impacts.

“The water level drops and rises all of a sudden, without warning,” complained Bel Juruna, a 25-year-old community leader and defender of indigenous peoples’ rights who talked to IPS during the visit to the village of Miratu.

“These abrupt fluctuations in the volume of water released in the Volta Grande produce changes in the water level in the river that confuse the aquatic fauna, disoriented by the availability of space to feed and breed,” said ecologist Juarez Pezzuti, a professor at the Federal University of Pará.

And once the hydroelectric plant starts to operate normally, the water flow will be permanently reduced, he added.

The local people are informed daily, through phones installed by the company in many houses, about the volume of water that enters Volta Grande. But this information about cubic metres per second means nothing to them.

“The information has to be useful,” adding the water level in the river in each village, the local indigenous people told the authorities present at the hearing, who included prosecutors, public defenders and heads of the environmental and indigenous affairs agencies.

There is a “failure of communication” that Energía Norte needs to fix, it was agreed during the hearing, where there were no representatives of the company.

Indigenous houses, practically submerged by the unexpected rise of the Xingu River. These traditional houses of the Juruna people give support to the “canoada”, a tourist and political event that the native people organize each September along the Volta Grande, in the northern Amazon state of Pará in Brazil.  Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Indigenous houses, practically submerged by the unexpected rise of the Xingu River. These traditional houses of the Juruna people give support to the “canoada”, a tourist and political event that the native people organize each September along the Volta Grande, in the northern Amazon state of Pará in Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Safety of navigation is another demand by the Juruna and Arara native people, who live on the banks of the Volta Grande. The damming of the river exacerbated the “banzeiros” (turbulence or rapids), which have already caused one death, early this year.

The local indigenous peoples are demanding large vessels, one for each of the five villages, to cross the reservoir to Altamira, the capital of the Medio Xingú region, without the risks that threaten their small boats.

They are also asking for support equipment for the most turbulent stretches of the Volta Grande, from August to November, when small dangerous rocky islands emerge due to the low water level.

The reduced water flow has made navigation difficult in the Volta Grande, the traditional transport route used by local people, increasing the need for land transport.

An access road to the routes that lead to Altamira is a chief demand of the Arara people.

“It was a condition of the building permit for Belo Monte, to this day unfulfilled. We have been waiting for that road since 2012,” protested José Carlos Arara, leader of the village of Guary-Duan.

They rejected the handing over of a Base of Operations that Norte Energía built for the National Indian Foundation, the state body for the defence of indigenous rights, to protect their territory. “With no land access, we won’t accept the base, because it will be incomplete,” said Arara, supported by leaders of other villages.

To improve territorial protection and the participation of indigenous people in the committees that deal with indigenous issues and those involving Volta Grande within the programmes of compensation and mitigation of impacts of Belo Monte is another common demand, submitted to the hearing in a letter signed by the Arara and Juruna people.

The need for protection was stressed by Bebere Bemaral Xikrin, head of the association of the Xikrin people, from the Trincheira-Bacajá indigenous land.

Since mid-2016, the waters of the Bacajá River have been dirty, which has killed off fish. The reason is the “garimpo” or informal surface mining along tributary rivers of the Bacajá, on the outskirts of the Xikrin territory.

And things will get worse with the construction of a road to bring in machinery for the garimpeiros or informal miners, if the Protection Plan, which was to be ready in 2011 “but hasn’t made it from paper to reality, is not fully implemented soon,” said Bebere Bemaral.

The Xikrin people do not live along the Volta Grande, but everything that happens in that stretch of the Xingu River affects the Bacajá, a tributary of the Xingu, which this people depend on for survival, he explained.

The rivers which were the lifeblood of local indigenous and riverine people became a risk factor with the implementation of a hydropower megaproject, to which could be added the Belo Sun mining project, also on the banks of the Volta Grande.

IPS Interviews FAO DG on appointment of David Beasley as WFP head

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

José Graziano da Silva. Credit: FAO

By IPS World Desk
ROME, Apr 1 2017 (IPS)

As widely known, the key objective of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is to eradicate hunger and malnutrition by 2030, as established with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals two years ago.

The two other Rome-based Agencies, partners of FAO in this endeavor, have both recently seen a change in their leaderships : the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP). On February 14, Gilbert Houngbo, former Prime Minister of Togo, was elected by the members states of IFAD as its President, and will take over on 1 April.

In the case of WFP, a joint programme of the United Nations and FAO, the UN Secretary-General and FAO Director-General led the selection process to identify the best candidate to serve as the new head of the largest humanitarian agency for food assistance and food aid. On March 29, the former Governor of South Carolina, David Beasley, was formally announced as the Executive Director of WFP after endorsement by the WFP Executive Board.

In this exclusive interview, FAO Director-General, Jose Graziano da Silva, shares with IPS his experience of carrying out this important task.

IPS : How do you feel about David Beasley’s nomination? Did you have a chance to speak to him after the final decision ?

Graziano da Silva: It was a very good outcome. David has outstanding credentials for the position, as he brings his extensive experience in liaising with key government and business leaders around the world and in leading peacebuilding missions and development efforts, working with foreign leaders. I truly hope we can continue the excellent collaboration between FAO and WFP undertaken under the leadership of the outgoing Executive Director Ertharin Cousin, and enhance it even further. Through our collective efforts and a twin-track approach, of emergency food assistance and delivering livelihoods, we must work together to keep people alive and help them to build resilience during a food crisis, ultimately eradicating hunger.

After the announcement of his selection, we had a fruitful telephone conversation and exchanged messages through the social networks. In a message from his Facebook post, he thanked me and SG Antonio Guterres for his appointment, and said he will increase efforts for “expanding the public and private partnerships (…) getting food and assistancee to those who so desperately need it”. FAO stands ready to support and collaborate with him in this regard. I feel that he is very excited about his new job, and I look forward to welcoming him in Rome.

IPS : How do you see the collaboration between FAO and WFP unfolding with a new leadership, particularly at this critical time of food security crisis?

Graziano da Silva: The precarious conditions of many countries in terms of food security, as well as the current famines, make it more urgent now than ever that the Rome Based Agencies work together.

We are faced with an unprecedented situation in the world today with South Sudan experiencing famine and three other countries – Yemen, northeastern Nigeria and Somalia – facing the threat of famine. Our task is not only to ensure that the people survive today but that they can live with dignity tomorrow.

If people abandon their lands, they lose their livelihoods, food production declines – thereby worsening not only their situation, but the food security of the country for many years to come.

Together the Rome Based Agencies (FAO, IFAD, WFP) need to undertake a twin-track approach, providing food assistance and simultaneously offering livelihood support and income opportunities.

FAO for its part will provide all its support to the of the new WFP Executive Director in order to tackle the many challenges of emergency assistance and providing relief around the globe. I shall also extend all support to the new President of IFAD.

IPS: Can you tell us more about Beasley’s nomination process ? Could you share with us your experience during the selection exercise and its implications
?

Graziano da Silva: As WFP is a joint autonomous subsidiary programme of the UN and FAO, its Executive Director is appointed by the Secretary-General of the UN and the Director-General of FAO, after consultation with the Executive Board of WFP.

Throughout this appointment process, the UNSG and I have been fully aware of the importance of ensuring a fully transparent process. The Executive Board was consulted on the proposed appointment, at the end on the process.

I am particularly proud to have taken part in this process, in close coordination with the Executive Office of the SG. I am very pleased to have been involved in this process, especially as WFP is the largest humanitarian agency for food aid in a world where many lives are at risk during one of the worst food crises in 70 years.

IPS: Could you give us more details about the process of selection itself?

Graziano da Silva: A call for nominations and applications was issued and was open from 14 to 28 February 2017, followed by a formal communication circulated to the Member States calling for candidates. The vacancy announcement was also posted on the FAO’s website and the UN SG’s senior level vacancies web page.

In total, 23 candidatures from 14 countries were received (5 women, 18 men), out of which 19 were individual applications (4 women, 15 men) and four were nominations from Member States (1 woman, 3 men). After review, 6 candidates (1 woman, 5 men) were short-listed and interviewed.

IPS : What was the criteria used for recommendations were made? Can you take us through some of the steps undertaken to ensure proper evaluation was done in this process?

Graziano da Silva: The evaluation panel composed of the UN Deputy Secretary-General and the Chief of Cabinet of the UN SG, as well as the FAO Deputy Director-General for Programmes and the FAO Officer-in-Charge of the Office of the Deputy Director-General for Operations. They focused on four areas for the interview: background, strengths and weaknesses of the candidate; strategic vision and work programme; previous experience in building partnerships with key stakeholders; and management and leadership expertise.