A Amazônia não está à venda! The Amazon is not for sale! Water is a human right! Water is a right, not a commodity! These are just some of the battle cries of delegates from the Brazilian Amazon who attended the Alterative World Water Forum which brought together thousands of citizens and activists from around the world from the 17th to the 22nd of March in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia. Cities around Brazil held their own activities on the 22nd of March, World Water Day.
Every three years the World Water Council, an international organization based in France, hosts the week-long World Water Forum, which, in their own words is, “the world’s biggest water-related event” committed to “putting water putting water firmly on the international agenda”. It brings together corporations, politicians, non-governmental organizations, and other representatives of civil society in an effort to foster dialogue and active engagement in thinking about the future of the world’s water resources. This year, the 8th Forum, centered around the theme “sharing water,” which for the organizers meant the “sharing of ideas among civil society; sharing of the best practices and solutions; sharing the benefits of rational water use and; more broadly, sharing actions and responsibilities among nations.” Still, many groups claim their voices are not heard through what the organizers of the World Water Forum claim to be a democratic process, and so indigenous groups, social movements, unions, neighborhood associations, academics, environmentalists, and other organizations organized a parallel event – the Alternative World Water Forum (FAMA) 2018, which took place on the campus of the Federal University of Brazil.
The World Water Forum has been criticized on many fronts including for lacking legitimacy, representativeness, and for being on the side of corporations rather than for those that need access to water resources most. Organizers and participants of FAMA point out that the World Water Forum fails to address many of what they see as the most pressing water issues such as the increasing privatization of water resources, the violence many defenders of the environment face, the violence and impoverishment associated with the construction of large dams, violations of indigenous rights and human rights more generally, and issues like water-related manmade disasters and drought – all of which are important issues around the world, but are especially pronounced in Brazil.
The Brazilian Amazon is the world’s most dangerous place to be a defender of the environment, especially for women. A wave of privatization is sweeping the country in the form of the sale, or proposed sale, of state-owned water, sanitation, and electric companies, as well the rumored proposed sale of water resources. The government recently completed three contentious large dam projects in the Amazon – Belo Monte, Santo Antonio and Jirau – each of which has state and federal civil cases lodged against them, and there are more under construction, such as Teles Pires, and more yet in the planning stages. This excludes the hundred that are planned, under construction, or recently completed in other Amazonian countries like Peru. The Belo Monte dam, which incited resistance for more than 30 years, has wreaked havoc on local river-dependent indigenous populations. Last year, a tailings dam near Mariana, Brazil ruptured and released a slew of toxic mud that overtook people and homes, killing 19 and contaminating an unthinkable area with water and sediment from iron ore extraction, leaving rust-red mud, water, and dust in its wake. More recently, the Swedish company Hydro AluNorte, which processes bauxite and aluminum in the Amazonian state of Para, was fined for dumping untreated effluent into the local water supply through a clandestine pipe, information that surfaced after the company was ordered to cut operations in half after contamination related to heavy rains and rust-colored flooding, colored by the contaminating material. A local community leader who denounced the spill, Paulo Sergio Almeida Nascimento, received death threats. Days later, and after requesting state protection, he was assassinated at his home.
These are just some of the issues that the 7,000 participants, representing all continents, brought to light during the FAMA events. These issues, they note, are not separate but woven together by the needle and thread of capitalism and all directly linked to the struggle to maintain or get access to water. FAMA participants brought to bear issues of racism, sexism, indigenous rights, workers’ rights, and violence against women on the various problems tackled. FAMA activities included an array of self-managed and directed events including marches, cultural events, the collection of testimonies, discussions, agricultural fairs, and film screenings. The FAMA committee in Rondonia, one of nine Amazonian states in Brazil, focused its energies on the proposed privatization of water distribution and sanitation that currently taking place in many cities across Brazil, including Rondonia’s capital of Porto Velho. The event concluded with a deceivingly simple declaration: “water is not a commodity, it is for the people”. While the way forward may not be so simple, the organizers and participants of FAMA 2018 demonstrated that will not go unheard. In their words, “we resist and we shall win!”