World Water Day: Deadly plight of Brazil’s river defenders goes unheard
While presidents, royalty and corporate dignitaries gave speeches at a global conference in Brasil’s federal capital this week on the need to protect water sources, river defender Ageu Lobo Pereira was running for his life through the Amazon forest.
The subject has received little attention at this week’s World Water Forum, the pre-eminent global talking shop for management of sanitation, drinking supplies, hydropower, irrigation, watershed management and a host of other related issues.
Yet in Brazil, the world’s most water-rich country, hundreds of cities face drought and many more communities are afflicted by contamination of supplies, while those that try to defend these resources are often murdered or criminalised.
Nineteen people died in that accident – Brazil’s worst environmental disaster – but many more are still suffering because the river is contaminated.
From the Tapajós, Francisco Firmino described his own narrow escape from hitmen hired by the same boss who targeted the village chief, Pereira.
“We have been fighting for water, for the forest and for our grandchildren for many years,” he said.
“But things have got worse because even the states seems to be against us.” His life, he said, was saved not by police but by allies from the Munduruku indigenous group, which is campaigning against dams, mines and a series of soya ports, which would add to the river traffic and pollution.
Although such cases are primarily aired outside the conference halls, the World Water Forum has for the first time invited judges and prosecutors to underscore the importance of rule of law in conservation and sustainable use of water.
“If actions are taken sooner rather than later and decision-makers invest in water security, our water resources can be managed more effectively, and communities will be better protected from crises,” explains World Water Council president, Benedito Braga.
The forum highlights how water security is rising up the political agenda, with more groups involved, a wider set of solutions discussed and a greater sense of urgency.