Ecologization of Hydrological Megaprojects: the Case of the Brazilian São Francisco River Diversion Project
Environmental issues have found their way into several public policy decisions in Brazil, ranging from direct action environmental protection to initiatives that seek to promote/induce development. Therefore, the diverting of the São Francisco River in Brazil was chosen as an emblematic case of the dichotomy between development and environment. Thus, we aim to understand the role played by the environment in this megaproject. Our assumption is that the amplitude, variability and multiplicity of meanings associated with environmental problems arise from discursive and political disputes about strategies of nature conservation and appropriate economic and institutional instruments to deal with what has been defined as an environmental crisis in the context of advanced capitalist societies. Therefore we have tapped official documents related to the Project for Integrating the São Francisco River with the Water Drainage Basins of Northeastern Brazil (PISF), and the São Francisco River Revitalization Program (PRSF), along with other documents underscoring a development policy for the northeastern semiarid region, testimonials from leaders of social movements, and from other actors, that stand out in the debate on diverting and integrating the São Francisco River. The research strives to identify the significance given to environmental issues when incorporated into the PISF and PRSF, as well as the implied clashes between actors involved in the rechanneling and revitalization process. The findings point towards at least two ways of thinking about the dynamics of incorporating environmental issues in such state actions: one is “ecological”, aimed at fostering the recovery of the river and the maintenance of a dynamic of subsistence and the other “economic”, with a set of actions designed to renew the river, allowing for the management and rational use of its resources. In this context, a notion supporting the rational utilization of resources seems to prevail.
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