From March 17th to 22nd, thousands of activists from over 30 countries gathered in Brasilia for the Alternative World Water Forum (FAMA). The event brought together an impressive array of groups, including indigenous peoples, fishermen, traditional riverbank communities, popular movements from the periphery of urban centers, union workers opposed to the privatization of water and sanitation systems, and environmental and human rights NGOs and students, among others. Participants of this civil society forum shared the position that access to safe drinking water and sanitation services is a basic human right, and that water must be understood as a source of life and an integral part of Mother Nature to be protected – with direct implications for public policies.
FAMA was organized in opposition, and as an alternative, to the 8th World Water Forum, convened by the corporate-led World Water Council, which has historically treated water essentially from a private sector perspective, i.e. as a commodity and source of profit. According to Thiago Ávila, a member of FAMA’s organizing committee: “We believe that this corporate event doesn’t address the needs of people around the world, because privatization and mercantilization always exclude the poorest groups of society. We live in a highly unequal world, with a system of injustice that must be confronted. So, we’re organizing to stop exploitation, oppression, and destruction of the planet, and the fight to defend water is part of that struggle.”
Participants at FAMA questioned why Brazilian agencies invested over $15 million in public funds in a corporate-led event that doesn’t produce concrete results in terms of commitments from governments. Meanwhile, individual entrance fees of 375 to 850 euros meant that the World Water Forum was inaccessible to common citizens.
Following an opening ceremony – inspired by music and dance of indigenous peoples and quilombolas(descendants of African slaves) – FAMA held a series of “self-organized activities” on the campus of the University of Brasilia over the weekend (March 17-18). The sessions covered conflicts over water related to economic activities such as hydroelectric dams, mining and agribusiness, urbanization and land speculation, as well as alternative solutions based on concerns for social justice and environmental protection, addressing issues of class, gender and ethnicity.
Over the following three days, plenary events and an encampment of social movements took place at a large pavillion located in the the Central Park of Brasilia – near the venue of the 8th World Water Forum. Activities included assemblies organized by women, indigenous peoples and other traditional populations. The movement commemorated World Water Day with a spectacular march through the streets of central Brasilia on March 22. This was followed by an inter-ecumenical service in which Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, indigenous and quilombola leaders highlighed the sacred nature of water and our collective responsibility for its protection.
International Rivers was a partner in organizing this year’s Alternative World Water Forum. Through our regional office in Brasilia, we participated in preparatory meetings, especially with a local organizing committee that played a key role. Working with the CASA Socio-Environmental Fund (which provides small grants to grassroots organizations), we helped ensure participation of indigenous leaders and other community representatives in FAMA. Together with such partners as the Federal Public Prosecutors’ Office (MPF), the Brazilian Movement of Dam-Affected Peoples, and a pan-Amazonian alliance of social movements in defense of rivers, we organized discussions on hydroelectric dams and other water-related conflicts, especially involving large “development” projects, as well as alternatives for sustainable and socially-just energy and water solutions. Our 2016 documentary film Belo Monte: After the Flood, co-produced with filmaker Todd Southgate, was screened as part of a film festival “Water and Resistance Struggles” included in FAMA’s program of activities.
Maintaining our partnership with Todd Southgate and Uma Gota no Oceano, we also produced a short video that registers some of the key moments, messages and voices of FAMA, in both four and 12-minute versions. You can watch the short English version here:
The original short version of the video in Portuguese is linked here. An extended version of the video, highlighting conflicts and social movements to protect water and human rights in the Rio Doce, Rio Juruena, Rio Tapajós and Rio Xingu, is linked here.
An initial screening of the FAMA video took place last Thursday evening (April 26th) at an annual national gathering of indigenous peoples (Acampamento Terra Livre, or “Free Land Camp“) in Brasilia. The event brought together thousands of representatives of native peoples from all over Brazil to protest against recent unprecedented attempts to roll back recognition of indigenous peoples’ rights and territories. It seemed an appropriate moment and venue to premier the video, given the fundamental contributions of indigenous peoples to the success of FAMA.
The process of mobilization around the Alternative World Water Forum has made vital contributions to the global movement in defense of water, life and human rights. As Sonia Guajajara, coordinator of the Brazilian Articulation of Indigenous Peoples (APIB), stated: “It’s not enough to just resist. We must insist on a change. We need for people to understand that, from now on, if we don’t change our patterns of consumption, if we don’t change the development model, we won’t go very far. So it’s not just about a struggle for water. It’s a struggle for our lives.”
- Final Declaration of the Alternative World Water Forum (Portuguese Original)
- Final Declaration of the Alternative World Water Forum (English translation)
- Final Declaration of the Alternative World Water Forum (Spanish translation)
- Declaration from Indigenous Peoples, Quilombolas and other Traditional Populations (Portuguese)
- Video message from Medha Patkar, leader of the movement against dams in the Narmada Valley of India, to participants of FAMA in Brasilia (with Portuguese sub-titles)
- Article: “Resistance and defence of water and territories in Brazil: Alternative World Water Forum (FAMA) provides a counterpoint to corporate forum”
- Check out an album with these and other great photos from the Alternative World Water Forum in Brasília