River in New Zealand recognized as a person
Rawiri Tiriray, vice chair of the Whanganui River governance body in New Zealand, and one of the panel members on “Environmental Crimes, Justice, Compensation and Rights Violation”, held this morning (21) at the 8th World Water Forum, opened his speech with the phrase: “I am the river, the river is me”, making clear the relationship of interdependence between his people and the surrounding environment.
More than 7,000 kilometers in length, the Whanganui River is the third largest in New Zealand. Along its course, there are 200 villages. The increasing colonization in the area caused the destruction of natural dams for navigation reasons, which caused environmental interferences in the type of soil and vegetation, and, finally, culminated with the installation of hydroelectric plants in the most recent decades. The lives of hundreds of Maoris have been significantly affected, the speaker said.
“Poor water management is like an act of corruption, it damages fundamental human rights,” Tiriray said. In 2007, facing a deteriorating river scenario, an agreement was signed that established important preservation measures, such as the recognition of the material and spiritual relationship between the river and its people and a request for forgiveness from the local government for permitting abuses in the area. “A fundamental step, a series of laws make it possible for the river to be recognized as a legal person, as an indivisible whole, which has its own rights and responsibilities just like any other person,” he said. With the measure, the intrinsic, cultural and spiritual values, are being preserved. Through the approved law, a group of 17 people frequently monitors the river health.
The voice of those most affected: in Brazil and in the USA
The comments of Mona Polacca, a native American form Arizona (USA) who participated in the session “Environmental Crimes, Justice, Compensation and Violation of Rights,” was one of the most moving of the panel. She lives with her small tribe on the banks of the Colorado River and depends on water for survival. “We depend on what the earth gives us. Water health determines the health of our food and supplies, it defines whether our children and grandchildren will be healthy. We, native people, have a voice: we have to reaffirm our responsibilities to bring humanity to life,” she said.
The need for inclusion in the definition of environmental treaties and policies around the world was reaffirmed by the speaker at various moments in her presentation. “We find ourselves in the most remote areas in relation to access to rights, and so we are greatly affected. We need to participate in the decisions that are being made. We have the right to water, food. In various extractive projects, they are destroying our lands. Giving the right to the river is a great step for which we are all fighting, also ensuring the spiritual value of water.”
The speech of Janete Barbosa, shellfisher from the quilombola community in Maragogipe (BA), shared the same kind of message as Polacca. The construction of dams in the region compromised the sales of shellfish in the region, which disappeared from the Paraguacu river, which flows through the state of Bahia. “To generate energy, the company needs a certain amount of water and controls the flow according to the needs but is unaware that several families rely on the income made with shellfish for their livelihood.”
Ecocide was addressed in the talk as a serious crime against humanity, affecting the livelihood of riparian people to a great extent. The recognition of water as an indispensable value and as a basic right was raised by all participants. One of the suggestions that was pointed out during the session was the requirement of an environmental water intervention plan, and that the absence of this item should be considered a crime. Another suggestion raised was the systemic participation of riparian people in the concession process of a project.
Head of Ibama analyzes the Doce River Basin recovery project
With the collapse of the Fundao dam in November 2015, some 40 million cubic meters of tailings were released along the Doce River following a route that crossed Minas Gerais and reached the coast of Espirito Santo. The collapse caused the deaths of 19 people and devastated entire villages, such as Bento Rodrigues in the district of Mariana (MG). The extent of the impact required a governance system unique to the country to deal with the recovery of the environment and the reparation of damages.
The issue was discussed by the president of Ibama, Suely Araujo, in the session “Economic development and security of hydro infrastructure in water basins: risks, preventive actions and monitoring”. “Managing the environmental and social effects of this disaster is a huge challenge,” said the speaker.
After an emergency phase, providing assistance to the impacted people and with measures to prevent the tailings from moving even further, a system of governance was adopted, based on a Transition and Conduct Adjustment Term (TTAC) that resulted in the creation of the Renova Foundation, an entity governed by private law with financial resources allotted by the three companies involved in the case: Samarco, Vale and BHP. “It’s a mega-construction, unprecedented in the country’s history. The federal government is working together with states and municipalities. This innovation is extremely important and has become the only way to deal with such a tragedy,” Suely said.
The work done by the Renova Foundation is monitored by the Interfederative Committee (CIF), chaired by Ibama and composed by several governmental and environmental agencies. “If there is one positive thing about a tragedy of this size, it is to make the federal government think along with other municipal and state spheres in this governance structure.”
Shared governance models
The special session “Empowering citizen participation: policies, representativeness and challenges” discussed the political and institutional context for the management of basin committees and bodies as a participatory approach to resource management. The panel brought together representatives from France, the USA, French Guiana, Morocco, the Czech Republic and Brazil, and included the participation of Paulo Varella, Head of the Pianco-Piranhas-Acu River Basin Committee and former director of the National Water Agency (ANA).
Murilo Santanna shared the experience of the Piracicaba, Capivari and Jundiai River Basin Intermunicipal Consortium, a private non-profit association composed of municipalities and companies, whose objective is to recover the water sources within range. The success the committee had in enabling the cooperation focused on water quality was so great that the municipality of Campinas even provided advanced financial resources to the municipality of Valinhos to build its sewage treatment plant, understanding that the non-treatment of its waters would affect the quality of the waters of its own city, which lies just below Valinhos.
Paulo Varella emphasized that “in order to involve all, it is important to share interests, rights and obligations and, in this sense, it is necessary to establish trust, invest in transparency, effective communication, and have adequate participation, as well as information that supports decision-making.” He said that in Brazil there are about 200 river basin committees.
However, the reason for creating these participatory basin management bodies is not only based on the ethical reason of including society and other organizations in decision-making processes. They represent an increase of information about the actual problems related to the basin, improving decision-making; in addition to increasing co-responsibility, making the implemented projects more successful. “This participatory process is not only for ethical reasons, but also a practice of good governance. It also brings practical advantages that should be considered,” said Francisco Cabeza from Spain.
The Renova Foundation understands that the greatest challenge of the Doce River Basin recovery work is the complexity and emergency of the situation and in the collaborative work it sees a great ally to better understand the specific consequences of the Fundao dam collapse, to create adequate solutions and have the support of those affected in the implementation.
Sanitation: a right that should be universal
While most discussions on the implementation of sanitation in the world face the challenge of investment, the session “Establishing the Foundations Needed to Achieve Universal Sanitation” promoted a debate on challenges to do with the organization and planning of this universal service, to make progress and put it into effect.
Catarina Albuquerque, of Sanitation and Water for All (SWA), opened the session saying: “I heard from a Paraguayan representative that it’s not the money that’s the problem. He said he could get a loan, but he did not know what systems were needed to implement sanitation.”
Representatives from Palestine, Brazil and Kenya shared their experiences guided by the moderator Murali Ramisetty of the Freshwater Action Network South Asia (FANSA), who referred to the pillars that, in his view, should be considered in planning for sanitation: sectoral policies and strategy; institutional agreements; planning, monitoring and review; sectoral financing and capacity building.
Regarding the situation in Brazil, Alexandre Araujo Carlos, from the Ministry of Towns, spoke about the challenge of implementing sanitation in a continental country, but pointed out that since 2007, when the sector was prioritized in national policies, the country was able to evolve faster in the matter: 508 billion reais will be invested in 20 years, according to the National Basic Sanitation Plan.
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