From 10-24 July, dozens of people are marching from town to town in the dusty interior of Piauí, a state in the north east bulge of Brazil, to demand accountability and an end to corruption in the water sector. The march is supported by Amarribo Brasil, Transparency International’s partner in Brazil and is organised by A Forca Tarefa Popular (the People’s Taskforce). In the towns and municipalities along the way, the marchers will help the people confront their local administrations and review the public accounts to monitor spending and highlight corruption.
Piauí is one of the poorest, driest states in Brazil, with a sliver of coastline and hectares of arid savannah. Most of the economic activity is clustered around the tourist industry on the coast. But those inland are having their livelihoods threatened by the lack of water.
This year the march, now in its 12th edition, started in the small town of Guaribas, 700 kilometres from the state capital Teresina, to see how federal funds that were supposed to help bring water to the people have been used.
We start our report from Piauí with an edited interview with one of the march organisers at the start of their journey. In the coming days we will add blog updates from the marchers with stories of what they encounter along the way.
Arimatéia Dantas, a lawyer, is the coordinator of A Forca Tarefa Popular, a group of NGOs, trade unions and students that fight against corruption in the public sector by promoting social auditing and control of policies and programmes.
Q: How does corruption in the water sector affect the people of Piauí?
Dantas: "Out of the 224 districts of Piauí, 199 are currently in a state of emergency due to drought. The lack of water leaves people dependent on water trucks. The places supplied by the trucks are determined by politicians. At times, water supply is used as electoral currency.
I saw the suffering of the rural population first hand when we were in the sertão (arid bushland) in the past two marches. We visited homes and understood how precious water is. The expectation to have water fills people’s eyes with hope. But when we had a drink of water there we quickly realised that scarcity is not the only problem – the water was of terrible quality.
Children and the elderly suffer most from the effects of the water shortage. We saw plantations and animals dying of thirst. It is in this context that votes can be bought in exchange for water.
There is a drought industry here: the misappropriation of public resources in connection with the abuse of public power for public gain. The delay in the construction of pipelines that would carry water to thousands of homes and poorly made works benefits the few who make money out of renting water trucks."
Don’t trade your vote for water – marchers protesting the ‘drought industry’.
Q: What inspired you to organise the first march against corruption 12 years ago?
Dantas: "The first march was held in 2001, and was motivated by the impunity of public officials in Piauí. The media consistently denounced corruption scandals but nothing happened.
Our conversations with the people, their despair and fragility due to lack of water associated with inefficient public policies and the lack of accounts, as well as the manipulation of votes through water, were the motivation to dedicate the march to water. We want to empower societies and are committed to defend the right of people to access to water. We also hope to raise national and international awareness to the plight of the people in north east Brazil through the march."
In March 2008, A Forca Tarefa Popular gained access to the accountability reports of the city of Castelo in Piauí for the year 2007. The city received R$371,567.82 (US$170,920) for the construction of water supply systems in seven villages. During the march people visited the village of Buritizinho do Geraldo that had been granted R$14,989.43 (US$6,895) for the construction of a pump house, reservoir, fountain, equipment and plumbing for homes. None of this had materialised. This was reported to the public prosecutor and a few months later the fountains were built and today this community has access to water in their homes.
Q: What do you expect the 2013 march to achieve?
Dantas: "I think this year’s march will be the most important of all because of the agenda of the drought as well as the demonstrations all around the country. We will try to put the cruelty of the drought industry and the manipulation of votes through the water issue on the national and international agenda. Brazil has the resources and technology for construction works that can change the lives of the people of sertão and put an end to the drought industry. Our vision is to stimulate and strengthen active citizenship of the local people to monitor and hold to account public policies, efficient and transparent management, to combat corruption and start the great battle to end the drought industry."
Water is a human right
The United Nations explicitly recognises the human right to water and sanitation and acknowledges that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realisation of all human rights stating that the human right to water is indispensable for leading a life in human dignity. For this right to be secured transparency and accountability mechanisms need to be in place, especially in drought stricken regions where the temptation to misuse scarce water resources is higher than elsewhere. Only through good governance can we prevent water from becoming a blue gold.
Updates from the march
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