(AA) ALERT: Hidrovia Tocantins-Araguaia construction

Thu, 22 Aug 1996 22:40:12 +0200

Original Sender: irn@ax.apc.org
Mailing List: NATIVE-L


Industrial waterway plan would have serious impacts for major Amazon
River system and indigenous populations


This week, the governors of the central-west and eastern Amazon regions of
Brazil met with officials of the U.S. shipping firm Midland Corporation to
urge the company to help finance construction of the Tocantins-Araguaia
Hidrovia (TAH) , or industrial waterway. The official purpose of the
hidrovia would be to facilitate river navigation in the eastern Amazon,
connecting the central-west of Brazil with Atlantic ports in Brazil's
northeast. This would, according to authorities, promote agricultural
development in Brazil's heartland and in the eastern Amazon.

The new effort to spur construction of the TAH comes at a time when a host
of new river navigation and railroad projects are being promoted in Brazil,
including the Paraguay-Parana Hidrovia, the Madeira-Amazonas Hidrovia, and
the Ferronorte railroad. While these routes would compete for available
cargo, they are all being pushed simultaneously, principally as a result of
competing interests on the level of the federal, state, and local
governments, as well as private business interests, including multinationals
who are being invited to finance these endeavors.

Most attention recently has been paid to the Paraguay-Parana Hidrovia, which
could have irreversible impacts for the world's largest wetlands expanse,
the Pantanal. With alternative transportation schemes moving forward, it is
possible that the segments of this project above Corumba, Brazil, which
would require intensive river alterations, will be put on the back burner,
both for their economic infeasibility, and also because of the intense
opposition the project has caused. Project proponents are still pushing
strongly for dredging and rock removal which would affect the lower Pantanal
and Paraguay and Parana Rivers, including other threatened wetlands and
indigenous communities.

The Ferronorte railroad project, the so-called "soy railroad" begun by soy
baron Olacyr de Moraes, took a new turn last week with the announcement that
the U.S. rail company Noel Group is purchasing a controlling share in the
operation. If Ferronorte moves ahead, it would economically competitive
with all the hidrovias being planned.

Another plan on President Fernando Henrique Cardoso's priority list is the
Madeira-Amazonas Hidrovia, which includes expansion of ports at Porto Velho
and Itacoatiara. This plan would facilitate export grains and timber from
the center-west and Amazon via the Amazon River.

The Tocantins-Araguaia Hidrovia

Now, it appears that a move is afoot to push conversion of the Tocantins and
Araguaia Rivers for navigation. This is one of the Amazon's principal
fluvial systems, born in Brazil's central plain, and flowing to join the
Amazon River near Belem.

Under the TAH plan, the Rio das Mortes, Araguaia, and Tocantins would be
deepened and widened, creating a river transport network of close to 3,000
km. which would link with existing highways and railroads. Among the
engineering works contemplated in the project are dredging, rock removal,
channeling, building lateral dikes, and damming tributaries.

The federal government has placed the cost of TAH improvements over the next
two years at $158 million, but the heavy engineering works, port
construction, and construction of navigation locks at Tucurui and Santa
Isabel Dams would likely cost several billion dollars.

Among the Tocantins-Araguaia Hidrovia's probable impacts:

# serious impacts on the lands, way of life, health, and culture of about
6,000 Xavante, Karaja, Javae, Ava Canoeiro, Tapirape, Guarani Mbya, Karaja
do Norte, Xerente, and Apinaye indigenous people who would be directly

# draining of wetlands, including the Ilha do Bananal, one of the world's
largest fluvial islands

# expansion of soy and other monocultures in the central-west and eastern
Amazon, with a resulting impact of increased contamination of rivers with
agrotoxics and pesticides, soil erosion, and deforestation of the cerrado;

# increased converstion of already depleted tropical rainforests for cattle

# increased timber cutting in the rainforests in northern Mato Grosso and
the south of Para;

# increased land conflicts in an already violent battleground between large
landholders and landless farmers;

# decrease in variety and number of fish, dolphins and other aquatic

# pollution from increased barge traffic and inevitable accidents;

# erosion of riverbanks caused by passage of barge convoys;

# increased catastrophic flooding during the rainy season.

Glenn Switkes, Latin America Program Director
International Rivers Network
1847 Berkeley Way, Berkeley CA 94703
+510. 848. 1155 tel
+510. 848. 1008 fax
email: irn@irn.org

or in Brasil:
+55. 65.627. 1689 tel/fax
email: glen@nutecnet.com.br