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Deviation of the Sao Francisco River, Brazil


Sao Francisco is one of the major rivers of Brazil. Its basin is about 640.000 km2 and hosts a huge variety of climates, ecosystems as well as population. A project of deviation of its waters has been discussed in the country since mid of 19th century, to provide water to the arid Northeast region of Brazil. The project was detained for shortages in technologies and capabilities for such a major undertaking. It was then relaunched by President Getúlio Vargas and, later, Fernando Cardoso. A final proposal was approved in 2005 by Lula government, with an initial budget of 2 billion dollars. The plan was to divert massive quantities of water (1.4% of the river natural flow) from the main river to the northeastern regions of Ceara, Río Grande do Norte, Paraiba y Pernambuco, to take water to cities, irrigation facilities and industries. Lula government contracted the companies Ecology and Environment do Brasil, Agrar Consultoria and Estudos Técnicos e JP Meio Ambiente to carry out the Environmental Impact Study to be submitted to IBAMA. This was presented in 2004, and the project was finally given the current name "Projeto de Integração do Rio São Francisco com as Bacias Hidrográficas do Nordeste Setentrional". Finally the project was approved with the resolution 47/2005 (17/1) by the Conselho Nacional de Recursos Hídricos (CNRH). Works started in 2009 and are scheduled to finish by 2025. Costs rose to more than 8 billion Reais, more than the double of the original cost estimation, provided by the Programa de Aceleração ao Crescimento (PAC I e II). Strong opposition came from people living along the river, including Bishop Luis Cappio who went into a hunger strike. In 2011, the Plataforma Dhesca Brasil published an impacts assessment report, the "Relatório da Missão à Petrolina e região do Rio São Francisco" [1].

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Deviation of the Sao Francisco River, Brazil
State or province:Bahia, Sergipe, Alagoas and Minas Gerais
Location of conflict:Sao Francisco River
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict: 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict: 2nd level :Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Specific commodities:Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details:

The project has capacity to transport water at a 26.4 cu m/second.

The water is diverted from the river through two canals, the Eixo Norte, of 400km and the other, the Eixo Leste, of 220km, and 70% of it would be distributed for irrigation, 26% for urban and industrial use and 4% for rural communities. Two more canals, Eixo Sul and Eixo Oeste, are currently under discussion.

According to the EIA, destination of use should be 70% for irrigation, 26% for industrial use and 4% for the population.

Due to the project, 34 indigenous communities and 153 Quilombola (Afro-descendants) communities risk to disappear. Communities who have not been consulted prior the start of the mega-infrastructure.

The project is to be finalized by the end of 2016 / beginning of 2017 notwithstanding its cost amost doubled to 8.2 billion reais ($3.4 billion).

Project area:220,000
Level of Investment:3,400,000,000
Type of populationRural
Start of the conflict:03/2005
Company names or state enterprises:Odebrecht Energy Luxembourg (Odebrecht) from Brazil
Petróleo Brasileiro S.A (PETROBRAS) from Brazil
Itochu Corporation from Japan
Toyota Tsusho Corporation (Toyota) from Japan
Queiroz Galvo from Brazil
Relevant government actors:The Brazilian government, Ministry of Environment - Brazil, Ministry of National Integration - Brazil, Ministry of Mines and Energy - Brazil, ANA - Brazil, CODEVASF - Brazil, Legislative Assembly of the Bahia State - Brazil, Parliamentary Front in Defense of Indigenous Peoples - Brazil
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:CPT, CIMI, FUNAI, Permanent Forum for the Defense of San Francisco, MAB, APOINME, Manuelzo Project, Indigenous Associations and Organisations of Pernambuco, Bahia, Paraiba and Alagoas, STRs, RODA, Popular Articulation for the Revitalisation of the So Francisco River, AATR, NECTAS, Via Campesina, Fishermen Pastoral Council/NE, CDDPH, Luiz Freire Cultural Centre, Fase, The Bahia Engineering Union, National Forum for Agrarian -Reform and Justice in the Countryside, Plataforma Dhesca Brasil – Rede Nacional de Direitos Humanos

Conflict and Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:International ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Religious groups
Local ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
Local scientists/professionals
indígenas Truká e Tumbalalá
Forms of mobilization:Blockades
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Hunger strikes and self immolation

Impacts of the project

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Malnutrition
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Application of existing regulations
Development of alternatives:To stop the project since it will affect the the territories of living populations and especifically of indigenous and quilombola communities. Environmentalist groups propose to draw water from groundwater reserves. Such alternative would have been much less onerous and would have directly benefited the populations in need of water supply.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Despite the opposition to the project, including hunger strikes in 2005 and 2007 by bishop Luiz Cappio, the project went on and started in 2008, causing social, cultural and environmental impacts.

Sources and Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

ILO Convention 169

Multi-Year Plan (PPA 2004/2007)

National Policy for the Environment Law n. 6.938/81

National Policy for Water Resources Law n.9.433/97

National Policy of Sanitation Law n. 11.445/07

Activity Plan 2004-2007 PAM

PAC Growth Acceleration Program

RIMA - Environmental Impact Assessment

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Escritos sobre o agua. Forum Carajas. 2003

Solicitao de Audiencia Publica e Julgamento - Transposicao do Rio So Francisco

Na Guerra da Transposição no h inocentes. Boletim Brasil de Fato. 2007

Carta aberta contra o projeto de transposio do Rio So Francisco. Carlito Kiriri. 2005.

Revista Proposta N 106 gua, Territrios e Conflitos. FASE

Acelerao do Crescimento na Bacia do Rio Francisco (II)

Projetos energeticos e minerais como destruicao de monumentos naturais e como expresso de poderio antiecolgico e antidemocrtico dos investidores. Oswaldo Seva Filho. 2004

Revista Proposta N 110 gua, Direito vida. FASE

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Brazil's huge river diversion project divides opinion, H., Mance, 12/04/2010

Transposição do Rio São Francisco, Mundo Educacao, 2014

MAB - Transposição do rio São Franscisco: via de mão única

[1] MAB - Obras da transposição do Rio São Francisco violam direitos humanos

Brazil: Situation of the planned transposition of the São Francisco River, J. Anaya, 15/09/2010

Related media links to videos, campaigns, social network

[TV TRIBUNA] Transposição do rio São Francisco

Hunger Strike to Save River: Brazil Bishop Luis Flavio Cappio.

December 19, 2007 by waterfortheages

Other documents

Canal under construction to divert Sao Francisco River

Meta information

Contributor:Lucie Greyl and Daniela Del Bene
Last update25/10/2016



Canal under construction to divert Sao Francisco River