Deviation of the Sao Francisco River, Brazil

In spite of local population opposition and years of pharaonic works, the deviation of the Sao Francisco River is about to be completed by the end of 2016.


Sao Francisco is one of the major rivers of Brazil. Its basin is about 640.000 km2 and hosts a huge variety of climates, ecosystems as well as population. A project of deviation of its waters has been discussed in the country since mid of 19th century, to provide water to the arid Northeast region of Brazil. The project was detained for shortages in technologies and capabilities for such a major undertaking. It was then relaunched by President Getúlio Vargas and, later, Fernando Cardoso. A final proposal was approved in 2005 by Lula government, with an initial budget of 2 billion dollars. The plan was to divert massive quantities of water (1.4% of the river natural flow) from the main river to the northeastern regions of Ceara, Río Grande do Norte, Paraiba y Pernambuco, to take water to cities, irrigation facilities and industries. Lula government contracted the companies Ecology and Environment do Brasil, Agrar Consultoria and Estudos Técnicos e JP Meio Ambiente to carry out the Environmental Impact Study to be submitted to IBAMA. This was presented in 2004, and the project was finally given the current name "Projeto de Integração do Rio São Francisco com as Bacias Hidrográficas do Nordeste Setentrional". Finally the project was approved with the resolution 47/2005 (17/1) by the Conselho Nacional de Recursos Hídricos (CNRH). Works started in 2009 and are scheduled to finish by 2025. Costs rose to more than 8 billion Reais, more than the double of the original cost estimation, provided by the Programa de Aceleração ao Crescimento (PAC I e II). Strong opposition came from people living along the river, including Bishop Luis Cappio who went into a hunger strike. In 2011, the Plataforma Dhesca Brasil published an impacts assessment report, the "Relatório da Missão à Petrolina e região do Rio São Francisco" [1].

Basic Data
NameDeviation of the Sao Francisco River, Brazil
ProvinceBahia, Sergipe, Alagoas and Minas Gerais
SiteSao Francisco River
Accuracy of LocationMEDIUM regional level
Source of Conflict
Type of Conflict (1st level)Water Management
Type of Conflict (2nd level)Dams and water distribution conflicts
Land acquisition conflicts
Interbasin water transfers/transboundary water conflicts
Specific CommoditiesWater
Project Details and Actors
Project DetailsThe project has capacity to transport water at a 26.4 cu m/second.

The water is diverted from the river through two canals, the Eixo Norte, of 400km and the other, the Eixo Leste, of 220km, and 70% of it would be distributed for irrigation, 26% for urban and industrial use and 4% for rural communities. Two more canals, Eixo Sul and Eixo Oeste, are currently under discussion.

According to the EIA, destination of use should be 70% for irrigation, 26% for industrial use and 4% for the population.

Due to the project, 34 indigenous communities and 153 Quilombola (Afro-descendants) communities risk to disappear. Communities who have not been consulted prior the start of the mega-infrastructure.

The project is to be finalized by the end of 2016 / beginning of 2017 notwithstanding its cost amost doubled to 8.2 billion reais ($3.4 billion).
Project Area (in hectares)220,000
Level of Investment (in USD)3,400,000,000
Type of PopulationRural
Start Date03/2005
Company Names or State EnterprisesOdebrecht Energy Luxembourg (Odebrecht) from Brazil
Petróleo Brasileiro S.A (PETROBRAS) from Brazil
Itochu Corporation from Japan
Toyota Tsusho Corporation (Toyota) from Japan
Queiroz Galvo from Brazil
Relevant government actorsThe Brazilian government, Ministry of Environment - Brazil, Ministry of National Integration - Brazil, Ministry of Mines and Energy - Brazil, ANA - Brazil, CODEVASF - Brazil, Legislative Assembly of the Bahia State - Brazil, Parliamentary Front in Defense of Indigenous Peoples - Brazil
Environmental justice organisations and other supportersCPT, CIMI, FUNAI, Permanent Forum for the Defense of San Francisco, MAB, APOINME, Manuelzo Project, Indigenous Associations and Organisations of Pernambuco, Bahia, Paraiba and Alagoas, STRs, RODA, Popular Articulation for the Revitalisation of the So Francisco River, AATR, NECTAS, Via Campesina, Fishermen Pastoral Council/NE, CDDPH, Luiz Freire Cultural Centre, Fase, The Bahia Engineering Union, National Forum for Agrarian -Reform and Justice in the Countryside, Plataforma Dhesca Brasil – Rede Nacional de Direitos Humanos
The Conflict and the Mobilization
Intensity of Conflict (at highest level)HIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
When did the mobilization beginPREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups MobilizingInternational ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Religious groups
Local ejos
Social movements
Fisher people
Local scientists/professionals
indígenas Truká e Tumbalalá
Forms of MobilizationBlockades
Boycotts of official procedures/non-participation in official processes
Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Objections to the EIA
Official complaint letters and petitions
Street protest/marches
Hunger strikes and self immolation
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Food insecurity (crop damage), Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Desertification/Drought, Global warming
Health ImpactsVisible: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..) , Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution
Potential: Occupational disease and accidents, Infectious diseases, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases, Malnutrition
Socio-economic ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Specific impacts on women, Increase in violence and crime, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..)
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors
Project StatusIn operation
Pathways for conflict outcome / responseCompensation
Application of existing regulations
Development of AlternativesTo stop the project since it will affect the the territories of living populations and especifically of indigenous and quilombola communities. Environmentalist groups propose to draw water from groundwater reserves. Such alternative would have been much less onerous and would have directly benefited the populations in need of water supply.
Do you consider this as a success?No
Why? Explain briefly.Despite the opposition to the project, including hunger strikes in 2005 and 2007 by bishop Luiz Cappio, the project went on and started in 2008, causing social, cultural and environmental impacts.
Sources and Materials

ILO Convention 169

Multi-Year Plan (PPA 2004/2007)

National Policy for the Environment Law n. 6.938/81

National Policy for Water Resources Law n.9.433/97

National Policy of Sanitation Law n. 11.445/07

Activity Plan 2004-2007 PAM

PAC Growth Acceleration Program

RIMA - Environmental Impact Assessment
[click to view]


Revista Proposta N 110 gua, Direito vida. FASE
[click to view]

Escritos sobre o agua. Forum Carajas. 2003
[click to view]

Solicitao de Audiencia Publica e Julgamento - Transposicao do Rio So Francisco
[click to view]

Na Guerra da Transposição no h inocentes. Boletim Brasil de Fato. 2007
[click to view]

Carta aberta contra o projeto de transposio do Rio So Francisco. Carlito Kiriri. 2005.
[click to view]

Revista Proposta N 106 gua, Territrios e Conflitos. FASE
[click to view]

Acelerao do Crescimento na Bacia do Rio Francisco (II)
[click to view]

Projetos energeticos e minerais como destruicao de monumentos naturais e como expresso de poderio antiecolgico e antidemocrtico dos investidores. Oswaldo Seva Filho. 2004


Brazil's huge river diversion project divides opinion, H., Mance, 12/04/2010
[click to view]

Transposição do Rio São Francisco, Mundo Educacao, 2014
[click to view]

Brazil: Situation of the planned transposition of the São Francisco River, J. Anaya, 15/09/2010
[click to view]

MAB - Transposição do rio São Franscisco: via de mão única
[click to view]

[1] MAB - Obras da transposição do Rio São Francisco violam direitos humanos
[click to view]

Media Links

Hunger Strike to Save River: Brazil Bishop Luis Flavio Cappio.

December 19, 2007 by waterfortheages
[click to view]

[TV TRIBUNA] Transposição do rio São Francisco
[click to view]

Other Documents

Canal under construction to divert Sao Francisco River
[click to view]

[click to view]

Meta Information
ContributorLucie Greyl and Daniela Del Bene
Last update25/10/2016