Infrastructure policies can no longer disregard their socio-environmental impacts and the demands of indigenous peoples and traditional communities, argues ISA founding partner Márcio Santilli in an article
Article originally published on the Mídia Ninja website, on 16/3/2023
President Lula met, last week, with the ministers of the economic and infrastructure area to discuss the resumption of the Growth Acceleration Plan (PAC), which covers the set of infrastructure works intended by the federal government and agreed with governors and mayors. This program was created in her previous government and coordinated by Dilma Rousseff, who led it as a minister and continued it as president.
The PAC was important in articulating federative interests, improving transport conditions, providing water and energy, and catalyzing public and private investments to boost the economy. However, there was no lack of controversies about the diversion of resources and relevant socio-environmental impacts. The construction of the Belo Monte hydroelectric plant, on the Xingu River, is one example.
There is no doubt that Brazil needs an investment program in public works. This is the sector that can react faster to the economic doldrums, generating jobs and income for the unemployed and those subjected to degrading working conditions. Furthermore, if investments are focused on structuring projects, they will be able to overcome logistical bottlenecks, reducing costs.
Lula asked the ministers to come up with a new name for the new PAC. That one had already replaced Avança Brasil and, decades later, Brazil is worse off than before. “Amansa Brasil” might be a good idea…
In addition to the name, a new flow of investments in infrastructure must consider the effects of each major project on the regional dynamics of occupation of the territory. It is not just a matter of producing good Environmental Impact Studies and Reports (Eia-Rima) or project components related to environmental licensing, especially when it comes to remote areas, subject to major transformations from the implementation of projects.
This was the case with the paving of the Cuiabá-Santarém highway (BR-163), starting with the first Lula government. Marina Silva, who was also his Minister of the Environment at the time, supported an intense process of discussion between civil society organizations to formulate and execute the Sustainable BR-163 Plan, which was, however, insufficient to prevent the economy from predatory activity ‒ public land grabbing, mining, illegal extraction of wood and other forest resources ‒ came to dominate politics and occupation in the region.
It is important to mention this case because the project for the implementation of Ferrogrão, a railroad overlapping the BR-163, between Sinop (MT) and Miritituba (PA), will certainly be among the items of the new infrastructure package. And because this would be the opportunity to correct mistakes and articulate initiatives that change the regional dynamics in the direction of sustainable development.
Another project on the table is paving the BR-319, between Porto Velho and Manaus. In common with BR-163, it crosses the Amazon from south to north, but crosses the heart of the forest. If the same predatory pattern of territory occupation is repeated along the BR-319 axis, the forest will be fragmented forever, with large-scale socio-environmental consequences. We are talking about projects that are decisive for the future of the Amazon, in a context of climate emergency.
It would be good news to include in the new package a component aimed at small infrastructure works that facilitate sustainable economic activities that are already carried out by indigenous, riverside, extractivist and quilombola peoples. Anchorages, goods depots, trails for outflow and community tourism, schools, health centers, culture centers. Labor, food and materials could be provided locally.
As there are many small works in the same region, they should be contracted in a block and projected based on consultations and surveys, for stretches of rivers or sub-basins, side roads or stretches of highways, taking into account the municipalities and existing civil associations. Mutirões and work fronts, rafts or battalions of services can be used.
The forest economy also needs energy and, for the most part, it develops in regions that are outside the national electrical system. In addition to polluting, diesel oil arrives in a laborious and costly manner. The generation of clean energies and the availability of engines and other equipment powered by them would give a great boost to forestry production, income, health and quality of life in communities.
The greater availability of internet points, via satellite, is essential to streamline business, purchases, payments and to provide, at a distance, education, technical training and health care. It also facilitates the management of canteen systems to ensure less costly access to basic consumer goods.
If the country can invest in opening export corridors through the Amazon, in generating energy and other inputs demanded by other regions, it must invest to avoid and mitigate its impacts and must not ignore any perverse effects of the occupation of the territory and the quality and sustainability of regional development.
It must invest, above all, in the necessary infrastructure so that the peoples of the forest can meet their needs and participate in development, conserving the forests standing. In times of climate emergency, these populations, their services and products are precious, not only for their projects for the future, but for providing knowledge and environmental services for the development of other regions of the country.