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Last Updated:  Monday, 17 March, 2003, 12:30 GMT
Dams stir water arguments
By Ben Sutherland
BBC News Online in Kyoto

Already the topic of dam construction is stirring strong emotions at the Third World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan.

Salto Caxias, Copel
Salto Caxias generates 6% of the nation's electricity
The debate, as ever, is centred on the seemingly polarised conflict between the needs for a clean source of energy and the massive social and environmental damage that dams can cause.

But the short history of the Salto Caxias dam in Brazil suggests that this need not always be the case.

Although construction work on the dam in the state of Parana was finished three years ago, only now has the entire project come online.

It now generates 6% of all electricity used in the country.

Benefit sharing

When Brazil's state-owned power company Companhia Paranaese de Energia (Copel) decided to build the dam in the early 1990s, 600 families living near the Iguacu River faced forced eviction - one of the many issues that make dams such a controversial subject.

But instead of simply ordering them to resettle, the Brazilian Government tried a different approach.

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The affected families formed an NGO - the Commission of Affected People by Dams Construction in the Iguassu River (Crabi) - and Copel began discussions with them in October 1993, three years before building began.

"They gave us just resettlement, into farms better than the old ones," said Jose Camilo, chairman of Crabi.

"600 families are now relocated in 19 farms. They wanted to avoid a rural exodus."

But as well as tackling the social problems associated with dam building, the government sought to limit the potential environmental damage.

Land preparation

The government had to buy the areas that the farms would be moved to, and so took the chance to put in place a number of guidelines aimed at changing the environmentally harmful farming methods that had been used.

The soil, for example, was prepared using alternatives to pesticides.

The government also planted 600,000 trees in the areas where previous owners had damaged the land, as well as buying a further 350 hectares to turn into a national park.

Similarly, an education programme was begun which took on 980 students to teach them about environmental preservation, and traditional methods of curing sickness were also updated.

"Co-operation was essential to achieving success," Mr Camilo explained.

He added that to this day Crabi remains active, co-ordinating, for example, a festival to preserve the region's cultural history.

Long-term effects

However, while Salto Caxias would seemingly provide a framework for better dam projects, the issue remains a steaming potato the world over.

And although much of the surrounding environment may have benefited as a result of the dam's construction, concerns remain about the long-term consequences for the Iguacu River itself.

Some campaigners here in Kyoto are calling for an immediate halt to all dam projects until more research has been completed.

The three-phase World Water Forum is being held in three locations - Kyoto, Osaka and Shiga in western Japan.

Delegates are discussing how to meet targets for wide access to water set at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in Johannesburg in South Africa last year.

The BBC's Tim Hirsch
"There's plenty of agreement here about what the problem is"

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