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In World Cup Spotlight, Amazon Tribes Call for End to Deforestation
Chief Raoni Metuktire, head of the Kayapò indigenous group from the Xingu region, deep in the Amazon rainforest, sits in a packed lecture hall in London. With his jutting lip plate and large feather headdress, the elderly, gently-spoken tribal leader is an imposing presence.
Photo credit: Sue Cunningham/ SCP
“When I’m gone I want my children and grandchildren to live in the forest as I have done,” he says. “I ask for your help. In the past, we didn’t knock down the trees, destroy the land and build dams, but now all that is happening.
“The climate in the forest is changing: it is a lot hotter than it used to be, and the pattern of the winds is altering.”
Lungs of the World
The Amazon rainforest—often referred to as the lungs of the world—has a major influence on the world’s climate. Its trees and vegetation act as a vital carbon sink, soaking up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Megaron Txucarramãe, a long-time campaigner for land rights for indigenous tribes in the Amazon region, sits alongside Chief Raoni, his uncle.
“The logging in our region is increasing,” he says. “Our lands and those of other indigenous tribes should be properly demarcated, but the Brazilian government is seeking to alter the constitution and undermine our land rights, giving more power to loggers, dam builders and mining companies.
“We went to Brasilia [Brazil’s capital] to protest, but we were received with rubber bullets, tear gas and pepper spray. While the government worries about building stadiums for the World Cup, our land is being threatened. I would like to ask the world to pay attention to our problems and help us.”
In a tour of European capitals that coincided with the opening of the World Cup, the two tribal leaders met Prince Albert of Monaco and, in London, Prince Charles. They also took their message to the Norwegian royal family.
The Kayapò are by far the largest ethnic group in the Xingu region. After years of campaigning and sometimes violent struggle, the group succeeded in having 19,000 square miles of land demarcated as an indigenous reserve in 1992.
The tribal leaders say the government of President Dilma Rousseff—which faces an election in October—is now threatening the land rights of indigenous groups and the health of the whole Amazon by allowing mining and other projects to go ahead.
In recent years, Brazil has embarked on a wide-ranging dam building program in the Amazon. The Xingu river, a major tributary of the Amazon river, runs through the Kayapò’s lands. Despite various court judgements and continuing protests by the Kayapò and other groups, construction of the Belo Monte dam—which will be one of the world’s biggest when it is completed—began on the Xingu in 2011.
After years of decline in deforestation rates in the Amazon rainforest, they then increased dramatically by 28 percent over the 2012 to 2013 period, with many blaming controversial reforms to Brazil’s forest laws pushed through by a powerful and extremely wealthy land lobby.
In recent months, large parts of Brazil have been suffering a drought that is one of the worst on record. Environmentalists say deforestation in the Amazon has disturbed weather patterns and has resulted in less rainfall in many areas.
Patrick Cunningham, who has travelled extensively through the Xingu region, photographing and documenting the lives of the indigenous tribes, is a spokesman for Tribes Alive, a group that highlights indigenous peoples’ issues.
Cunningham said: “Chief Metuktire and Megaron are not only asking for an end to the destruction of their lands, they are also campaigning to stop what is a suicidal rush to develop their region.
“Such actions will not only be a setback for them but also for the whole of Brazil as rain patterns alter farther south, in what is the most agriculturally productive region of the country.”
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By Will Sarni
It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.
The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future
We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.
"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.
One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.
Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.
Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.
These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.
We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).
We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.
We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.
Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.
Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.
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