Latin America Sets an Example in Welcoming Displaced Venezuelans

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Migration & Refugees

A Venezuelan family carrying a few belongings crosses the Simon Bolivar Bridge at the border into Colombia. Over the years, the migration flow has grown due to increasing numbers of people with unsatisfied basic needs. CREDIT: Siegfried Modola/UNHCR

A Venezuelan family carrying a few belongings crosses the Simon Bolivar Bridge at the border into Colombia. Over the years, the migration flow has grown due to increasing numbers of people with unsatisfied basic needs. CREDIT: Siegfried Modola/UNHCR

CARACAS, Jul 26 2021 (IPS) – The exodus of more than five million Venezuelans in the last six years has led countries in the developing South, Venezuela’s neighbours, to set an example with respect to welcoming and integrating displaced populations, with shared benefits for the new arrivals and the nations that receive them.


In this region “there is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations,” Eduardo Stein, head of the largest assistance programme for displaced Venezuelans, told IPS.

According to figures from the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 5,650,000 people have left Venezuela, mainly crossing into neighbouring countries, as migrants, displaced persons or refugees, as of July 2021.

“This is the largest migration crisis in the history of Latin America,” Stein said by phone from his Guatemala City office in the Interagency Coordination Platform for Venezuelan Refugees and Migrants (R4V), created by the UNHCR and IOM in partnership with 159 other diverse entities working throughout the region.

“This region is a living laboratory, where insertion and absorption efforts are working. The new arrivals are turning what was seen as a burden into a contribution to the host communities and nations.” — Eduardo Stein

Colombia, the neighbour with the most intense historical relationship, stands out for receiving daily flows of hundreds and even thousands of Venezuelans, who already number almost 1.8 million in the country, and for providing them with Temporary Protection Status that grants them documentation and access to jobs, services and other rights.

Colombia’s Fundación Renacer, which has assisted thousands of child and adolescent survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and other types of sexual and gender-based violence, is a model for how to welcome and help displaced persons.

Renacer, staffed by activists such as Mayerlin Vergara, 2020 winner of the UNHCR’s annual Nansen Refugee Award for outstanding aid workers who help refugees, displaced and stateless people, rescues girls and young women from places like brothels and bars where they are forced into sexual or labour exploitation, often by trafficking networks that capture the most vulnerable migrants.

“In Colombian society as a whole there has been a process of understanding, after the phenomenon was the other way around for several decades in the 20th century, of people displaced by the violence and crisis in Colombia being welcomed in Venezuela,” Camilo González, president of the Colombian Institute for Development and Peace Studies, told IPS.

When the great migratory wave began in 2014-2015, “many Venezuelans were taken on as half-price cheap labour by businesses, such as coffee harvesters and others in the big cities, but that situation has improved, even despite the slowdown of the pandemic,” said González.

Stein mentioned the positive example set by Colombia’s flower exporters, which employed many Venezuelan women in cutting and packaging, a task that did not require extensive training.

The head of the R4V, who was vice-president of Guatemala between 2004 and 2008 and has held various international positions, noted that in the first phase, the receiving countries appreciated the arrival of “highly prepared Venezuelans, very well trained professionals.”

Yukpa Indians from Venezuela register upon arrival at a border post in Colombia. The legalisation and documentation of migrants arranged by the Colombian government allows migrants to access services and exercise rights in the neighbouring country. CREDIT: Johanna Reina/UNHCR

Yukpa Indians from Venezuela register upon arrival at a border post in Colombia. The legalisation and documentation of migrants arranged by the Colombian government allows migrants to access services and exercise rights in the neighbouring country. CREDIT: Johanna Reina/UNHCR

“One example would be the thousands of Venezuelan engineers who arrived in Argentina and were integrated into productive activities in a matter of weeks,” he said.

But, Stein pointed out, “the following wave of Venezuelans leaving their country was not made up of professionals; the profile changed to people with huge unsatisfied basic needs, without a great deal of training but with basic skills, and nevertheless the borders remained open, and they received very generous responses.”

But, he acknowledged, in some cases “the arrival of this irregular, undocumented migration was linked to acts of violence and violations of the law, which created internal tension.”

Iván Briscoe, regional head of the Brussels-based conflict observatory International Crisis Group, told IPS that in the case of Colombia, “it has been impressive to receive almost two million Venezuelans, in a country of 50 million inhabitants, 40 percent of whom live in poverty.”

Colombia continues to be plagued by social problems, as shown by the street protests raging since April, “and therefore the temporary protection status, a generous measure by President Iván Duque’s government, does not guarantee that Venezuelan migrants will have access to the social services they may demand,” Briscoe said.

The large number of Venezuelans “means an additional cost of 100 million dollars per year for the health services alone,” said González, who spoke to IPS by telephone from the Colombian capital.

Against this backdrop, there have been expressions of xenophobia, as various media outlets interpreted statements by Bogotá Mayor Claudia López, who after a crime committed by a Venezuelan, suggested the deportation of “undesirable” nationals from that country.

There were also demonstrations against the influx of Venezuelans in Ecuador and Panama, as well as Peru, where the policy of President-elect Pedro Castillo towards the one million Venezuelan immigrants is still unclear, as well as deportations from Chile and Trinidad and Tobago, and new obstacles to their arrival in the neighbouring Dutch islands.

“Not everything has been rosy,” Stein admitted, “as there are still very complex problems, such as the risks that, between expressions of xenophobia and the danger of trafficking, the most vulnerable migrant girls and young women face.”

However, the head of the R4V considered that “we have entered a new phase, beyond the immediate assistance that can and should be provided to those who have just arrived, and that is the insertion and productive or educational integration in the communities.”

Migrants who have benefited from Operation Welcome in Brazil, where there are more than 260,000 Venezuelans, shop at a market in the largest city in the country, São Paulo. CREDIT: Mauro Vieira/MDS-UNHCR

Migrants who have benefited from Operation Welcome in Brazil, where there are more than 260,000 Venezuelans, shop at a market in the largest city in the country, São Paulo. CREDIT: Mauro Vieira/MDS-UNHCR

Throughout the region “there are places that have seen that immigrants represent an attraction for investment and labour and productive opportunities for the host communities themselves.”

Another example is provided by Brazil, with its Operação Acolhida (Operation Welcome), which includes a programme to disperse throughout its vast territory Venezuelans who came in through the northern border and first settled, precariously, in cities in the state of Amazonas.

More than 260,000 Venezuelans have arrived in Brazil – among them some 5,000 indigenous Waraos, from the Orinoco delta, and a similar number of Pemon Indians, close to the border – and some 50,000 have been recognised as refugees by the Brazilian government.

Brazil has the seventh largest Venezuelan community, after Colombia, Peru, the United States, Chile, Ecuador and Spain. It is followed by Argentina, Panama, the Dominican Republic and Mexico.

Throughout the region, organisations have mushroomed, not only to provide relief but also to actively seek the insertion of Venezuelans, in some cases headed by Venezuelans themselves, as in the case of the Fundacolven foundation in Bogota.

“We are active on two fronts, because first we motivate companies to take on workers who, as immigrants, are willing to go the ‘extra mile’,” said Venezuelan Mario Camejo, one of the directors of Fundacolven.

As for the immigrants, “we help them prepare and polish their skills so that they can successfully search for and find stable employment, if they have already ‘burned their bridges’ and do not plan to return,” he added.

On this point, Stein commented that the growing insertion of Venezuelans “shows how this crisis can evolve without implying an internal solution in Venezuela,” a country whose projected population according to the census of 10 years ago should have been 32.9 million and is instead around 28 million.

Based on surveys carried out in several countries, the head of R4V indicated that “the majority of Venezuelans who have migrated and settled in these host countries are not interested in going back in the short term.”

Julio Meléndez is a young Venezuelan who has found employment in food distribution at a hospital in Cali, in western Colombia. Labour insertion is key for the integration of migrants in host communities. CREDIT: Laura Cruz Cañón/UNHCR

Julio Meléndez is a young Venezuelan who has found employment in food distribution at a hospital in Cali, in western Colombia. Labour insertion is key for the integration of migrants in host communities. CREDIT: Laura Cruz Cañón/UNHCR

According to Filippo Grandi, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, they have benefited from the fact that the countries of the region “are an example, and the rest of the world can learn a lot about the inclusion and integration of refugees in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

In the north of the region, Mexico is dealing with a migration phenomenon on four fronts. On one hand, 12 million Mexicans live in the United States. And on the other, every year hundreds of thousands of migrants make their way through the country, mainly Central Americans and in recent years also people from the Caribbean, Venezuelans and Africans.

In addition, the United States sends back to Mexico hundreds of thousands of people who cross its southern border without the required documents. And in fourth place, the least well-known aspect: Mexico is home to more than one million migrants and refugees who have chosen to make their home in that country.

Major recipients of refugees and asylum seekers in other regions are Turkey, in the eastern Mediterranean, hosting 3.7 million (92 percent Syrians), and, with 1.4 million displaced persons each, Pakistan (which has received a massive influx of people from Afghanistan) and Uganda (refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo and other neighbouring countries).

In Sudan there are one million refugees, Bangladesh, Iran and Lebanon host 900,000 each, while in the industrialised North the cases of Germany, which received 1.2 million refugees from the Middle East, and the United States, which has 300,000 refugees and one million asylum seekers in its territory, stand out.

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Semiarid Regions of Latin America Cooperate to Adapt to Climate

Civil Society, Combating Desertification and Drought, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, South-South, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Combating Desertification and Drought

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

A rural settlement in the state of Pernambuco, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion. Tanks that collect rainwater from rooftops for drinking water and household usage have changed life in this parched land, where 1.1 million 16,000-litre tanks have been installed so far. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

RIO DE JANEIRO, Aug 27 2020 (IPS) – After centuries of poverty, marginalisation from national development policies and a lack of support for positive local practices and projects, the semiarid regions of Latin America are preparing to forge their own agricultural paths by sharing knowledge, in a new and unprecedented initiative.


In Brazil’s semiarid Northeast, the Gran Chaco Americano, which is shared by Argentina, Bolivia and Paraguay, and the Central American Dry Corridor (CADC), successful local practices will be identified, evaluated and documented to support the design of policies that promote climate change-resilient agriculture in the three ecoregions.

This is the objective of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo, an initiative financed by the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and implemented by the Brazilian Semiarid Articulation (ASA), the Argentinean Foundation for Development in Justice and Peace (Fundapaz) and the National Development Foundation (Funde) of El Salvador.

DAKI stands for Dryland Adaptation Knowledge Initiative.

The project, launched on Aug. 18 in a special webinar where some of its creators were speakers, will last four years and involve 2,000 people, including public officials, rural extension agents, researchers and small farmers. Indirectly, 6,000 people will benefit from the training.

“The aim is to incorporate public officials from this field with the intention to influence the government’s actions,” said Antonio Barbosa, coordinator of DAKI-Semiárido Vivo and one of the leaders of the Brazilian organisation ASA.

The idea is to promote programmes that could benefit the three semiarid regions, which are home to at least 37 million people – more than the total populations of Chile, Ecuador and Peru combined.

The residents of semiarid regions, especially those who live in rural areas, face water scarcity aggravated by climate change, which affects their food security and quality of life.

Zulema Burneo, International Land Coalition coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean and moderator of the webinar that launched the project, stressed that the initiative was aimed at “amplifying and strengthening” isolated efforts and a few longstanding collectives working on practices to improve life in semiarid areas.

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil's semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

Abel Manto, an inventor of technologies that he uses on his small farm in the state of Bahia, in Brazil’s semiarid ecoregion, holds up a watermelon while standing among the bean crop he is growing on top of an underground dam. The soil is on a waterproof plastic tarp that keeps near the surface the water that is retained by an underground dam. CREDIT: Mario Osava/IPS

The practices that represent the best knowledge of living in the drylands will be selected not so much for their technical aspects, but for the results achieved in terms of economic, ecological and social development, Barbosa explained to IPS in a telephone interview from the northeastern Brazilian city of Recife, where the headquarters of ASA are located.

After the process of systematisation of the best practices in each region is completed, harnessing traditional knowledge through exchanges between technicians and farmers, the next step will be “to build a methodology and the pedagogical content to be used in the training,” he said.

One result will be a platform for distance learning. The Federal Rural University of Pernambuco, also in Recife, will help with this.

Decentralised family or community water supply infrastructure, developed and disseminated by ASA, a network of 3,000 social organisations scattered throughout the Brazilian Northeast, is a key experience in this process.

In the 1.03 million square kilometres of drylands where 22 million Brazilians live, 38 percent in rural areas according to the 2010 census, 1.1 million rainwater harvesting tanks have been built so far for human consumption.

An estimated 350,000 more are needed to bring water to the entire rural population in the semiarid Northeast, said Barbosa.

But the most important aspect for agricultural development involves eight “technologies” for obtaining and storing water for crops and livestock. ASA, created in 1999, has helped install this infrastructure on 205,000 farms for this purpose and estimates that another 800 peasant families still need it.

There are farms that are too small to install the infrastructure, or that have other limitations, said Barbosa, who coordinates ASA’s One Land and Two Waters and native seed programmes.

The “calçadão” technique, where water runs down a sloping concrete terrace or even a road into a tank that has a capacity to hold 52,000 litres, is the most widely used system for irrigating vegetables.

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil's semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

A group of peasant farmers from El Salvador stand in front of one of the two rainwater tanks built in their village, La Colmena, in the municipality of Candelaria de la Frontera. The pond is part of a climate change adaptation project in the Central American Dry Corridor. Central American farmers like these and others from Brazil’s semiarid Northeast have exchanged experiences on solutions for living with lengthy droughts. CREDIT: Edgardo Ayala/IPS

And in Argentina’s Chaco region, 16,000-litre drinking water tanks are mushrooming.

But tanks for intensive and small farming irrigation are not suitable for the dry Chaco, where livestock is raised on large estates of hundreds of hectares, said Gabriel Seghezzo, executive director of Fundapaz, in an interview by phone with IPS from the city of Salta, capital of the province of the same name, one of those that make up Argentina’s Gran Chaco region.

“Here we need dams in the natural shallows and very deep wells; we have a serious water problem,” he said. “The groundwater is generally of poor quality, very salty or very deep.”

First, peasants and indigenous people face the problem of formalising ownership of their land, due to the lack of land titles. Then comes the challenge of access to water, both for household consumption and agricultural production.

“In some cases there is the possibility of diverting rivers. The Bermejo River overflows up to 60 km from its bed,” he said.

Currently there is an intense local drought, which seems to indicate a deterioration of the climate, urgently requiring adaptation and mitigation responses.

Reforestation and silvopastoral systems are good alternatives, in an area where deforestation is “the main conflict, due to the pressure of the advance of soy and corn monoculture and corporate cattle farming,” he said.

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

Mariano Barraza of the Wichí indigenous community (L) and Enzo Romero, a technician from the Fundapaz organisation, stand next to the tank built to store rainwater in an indigenous community in the province of Salta, in the Chaco ecoregion of northern Argentina, where there are six months of drought every year. CREDIT: Daniel Gutman/IPS

More forests would be beneficial for the water, reducing evaporation that is intense due to the heat and hot wind, he added.

Of the “technologies” developed in Brazil, one of the most useful for other semiarid regions is the “underground dam,” Claus Reiner, manager of IFAD programmes in Brazil, told IPS by phone from Brasilia.

The underground dam keeps the surrounding soil moist. It requires a certain amount of work to dig a long, deep trench along the drainage route of rainwater, where a plastic tarp is placed vertically, causing the water to pool during rainy periods. A location is chosen where the natural layer makes the dam impermeable from below.

This principle is important for the Central American Dry Corridor, where “the great challenge is how to infiltrate rainwater into the soil, in addition to collecting it for irrigation and human consumption,” said Ismael Merlos of El Salvador, founder of Funde and director of its Territorial Development Area.

The CADC, which cuts north to south through Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, is defined not as semiarid, but as a sub-humid region, because it rains slightly more there, although in an increasingly irregular manner.

Some solutions are not viable because “75 percent of the farming areas in the Corridor are sloping land, unprotected by organic material, which makes the water run off more quickly into the rivers,” Merlos told IPS by phone from San Salvador.

“In addition, the large irrigation systems that we’re familiar with are not accessible for the poor because of their high cost and the expensive energy for the extraction and pumping of water, from declining sources,” he said.

The most viable alternative, he added, is making better use of rainwater, by building tanks, or through techniques to retain moisture in the soil, such as reforestation and leaving straw and other harvest waste on the ground rather than burning it as peasant farmers continue to do.

“Harmful weather events, which four decades ago occurred one to three times a year, now happen 10 or more times a year, and their effects are more severe in the Dry Zone,” Merlos pointed out.

Funde is a Salvadoran centre for development research and policy formulation that together with Fundapaz, four Brazilian organisations forming part of the ASA network and seven other Latin American groups had been cooperating since 2013, when they created the Latin American Semiarid Platform.

The Platform paved the way for the DAKI-Semiárido Vivo which, using 78 percent of its two million dollar budget, opened up new horizons for synergy among Latin America’s semiarid ecoregions. To this end, said Burneo, it should create a virtuous alliance of “good practices and public policies.”

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Water Is Worth More than Milk in Extrema, Brazil

Biodiversity, Civil Society, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Environment, Featured, Food & Agriculture, Green Economy, Headlines, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations, Water & Sanitation

Water & Sanitation

Elias Cardoso is proud of the restored forests on his 67-hectare farm, where he has protected and reforested a dozen springs as well as streams. "I was a guinea pig for the Water Conservator project, they called me crazy," when the mayor's office was not yet paying for it in Extrema, a municipality in southeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Elias Cardoso is proud of the restored forests on his 67-hectare farm, where he has protected and reforested a dozen springs as well as streams. “I was a guinea pig for the Water Conservator project, they called me crazy,” when the mayor’s office was not yet paying for it in Extrema, a municipality in southeastern Brazil. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

EXTREMA, Brazil, Nov 29 2019 (IPS) – “They called me crazy” for fencing in the area where the cows went to drink water, said Elias Cardoso, on his 67-hectare farm in Extrema, a municipality 110 km from São Paulo, Brazil’s largest metropolis.


“I realized the water was going to run out, with cattle trampling the spring. Then I fenced in the springs and streams,” said the 60-year-old rancher. “But I left gates to the livestock drinking areas.”

Cardoso was a pioneer, getting the jump on the Water Conservancy Project, launched by the local government in 2005 with the support of the international environmental organisation The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Institute of the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, where Extrema, population 36,000, is located at the southern tip.

The project follows the fundamentals of the National Water Agency‘s Water Producer Programme, which focuses on different ways to preserve water resources and improve their quality, such as measures to conserve soil, preventing sedimentation of rivers and lakes.

But at the core of the project is the Payments for Environmental Services (PES), which in the case of Extrema compensate rural landowners for land they no longer use for crops or livestock, to restore forests or protect with fences.

The “Water Conservator” (Conservador das Águas) began operating in 2007, with contracts offered by the PES to farmers who reforest and protect springs, riverbanks and hilltops, which are numerous in Extrema because it is located in the Sierra de Mantiqueira, a chain of mountains that extends for about 100,000 square km.

“Then everyone jumped on board,” Cardoso said, referring to the project in the Arroyo das Posses basin, where he lives and where the environmental and water initiative began and had the biggest impact.

View of the new landscape in the hilly area around Extrema, after the reforestation of thousands of hectares in three basins in this municipality in southeastern Brazil, where the local government has fomented the process of recovery by paying landowners for environmental services. The priority is to restore the forests at the headwaters of the rivers and on hilltops and protect them with cattle fences. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

View of the new landscape in the hilly area around Extrema, after the reforestation of thousands of hectares in three basins in this municipality in southeastern Brazil, where the local government has fomented the process of recovery by paying landowners for environmental services. The priority is to restore the forests at the headwaters of the rivers and on hilltops and protect them with cattle fences. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

In the 14 years since it was launched, the project has only worked fully in three basins, where two million trees were planted and close to 500 springs were protected. It is now being extended to seven other watersheds.

“The goal is to reach 40 percent of forest cover with native species” in the municipality and “so far we already have 25 percent covered, and 10 percent is thanks to the Water Conservator,” said Paulo Henrique Pereira, promoter of the project as Environment Secretary in Extrema since 1995.

“Planting trees is easy, creating a forest is more complex,” the 50-year-old biologist told IPS, stressing that it’s not just about planting trees to “produce” and conserve water.

The project began with the prospecting of areas and the training of technicians, after the approval of a municipal PES statute, since there is no national law on remunerated environmental services.

“The bottleneck is that there is no skilled workforce” to reforest and implement water conservation measures, Pereira said.

The project now has its own nursery for the large-scale production of seedlings of native tree species, to avoid the past dependence on external acquisitions or donations, which drove up costs and made planning more complex.

Since 2005 Paulo Henrique Pereira, Secretary of Environment in Extrema since 1995, has promoted the Water Conservator Project, which has won national and international awards for its success in recovering and preserving springs and streams, by paying for environmental services to rural landowners who reforest in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. "Planting trees is easy, creating a forest is more complex," he says. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Since 2005 Paulo Henrique Pereira, Secretary of Environment in Extrema since 1995, has promoted the Water Conservator Project, which has won national and international awards for its success in recovering and preserving springs and streams, by paying for environmental services to rural landowners who reforest in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. “Planting trees is easy, creating a forest is more complex,” he says. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The success of Extrema’s project, which has won dozens of national and international good practice awards, “is due to good management, which does not depend on the continuity of government,” said the biologist, although he admitted that it helped that he had been in the local Secretariat of the Environment for 24 years and that the mayors were of the same political orientation.

“It is a well-established project that is not likely to suffer setbacks,” he said.

The fact that the project offers both environmental and economic benefits helps keep it alive.

“My grandfather, who spent his life deforesting his property, initially rejected the project. It didn’t make sense to him to plant the same trees he had felled to make pasture for cattle,” said Aline Oliveira, a 19-year-old engineering student who is proud of the quality of life achieved in Extrema.

“When I was a girl, I didn’t accept the idea of protecting springs to preserve water either. I thought it was absurd to plant trees to increase water, because planting 200 or 300 trees would consume a lot of water. That was how I used to think, but then in practice I saw that springs survived in intact forest areas,” she said.

Later, when the PES arrived in the area, her grandfather gave in and more than 10 springs on the 112-hectare farm were reforested and protected. The payment is 100 municipal monetary units per hectare each year, currently equivalent to about 68 dollars.

Aline Oliveira studies engineering and lives on her family's farm in southeastern Brazil. She is proud of the way life has improved in Extrema, a process that began with the establishment of the Payments for Environmental Services system, which guarantees income to farmers and ranchers for reforesting watersheds. It is a secure income at a time of falling milk prices and in a town far from the dairy processing plants. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Aline Oliveira studies engineering and lives on her family’s farm in southeastern Brazil. She is proud of the way life has improved in Extrema, a process that began with the establishment of the Payments for Environmental Services system, which guarantees income to farmers and ranchers for reforesting watersheds. It is a secure income at a time of falling milk prices and in a town far from the dairy processing plants. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

“The PES is a secure income, while milk prices have dropped, and everything has become more expensive than milk in the last 10 years. In addition, there were losses due to lack of transportation, since there is no major dairy processing plant within 50 km,” she told IPS.

Thanks to the municipal payments, “we were able to invest in cows with better genetics, buy a milking parlor and improve health care for the cattle, thus increasing productivity,” which compensated for the reduction in pastures, added the student, who works for the project.

The programme coincided with a major improvement in the economy and quality of life in Extrema. “I was born in Joanópolis, where there were better hospitals than in Extrema. But now it’s the other way around” and people from there come to Extrema, 20 km away, for heath care, Oliveira said.

This is also due to the industrialisation experienced by Extrema in recent decades, which becomes evident during a walk around the town, where many new industrial plants can be seen.

The water conservation project has also contributed to the water supply for a huge population in the surrounding area.

Arlindo Cortês, head of environmental management at Extrema's Secretariat of the Environment, stands in the nursery where seedlings are grown for reforestation in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. "Building reservoirs does not ensure water supply if the watershed is deforested, degraded, sedimented. There will be floods and water shortages because the rainwater doesn't infiltrate the soil," he explains. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Arlindo Cortês, head of environmental management at Extrema’s Secretariat of the Environment, stands in the nursery where seedlings are grown for reforestation in this municipality in southeastern Brazil. “Building reservoirs does not ensure water supply if the watershed is deforested, degraded, sedimented. There will be floods and water shortages because the rainwater doesn’t infiltrate the soil,” he explains. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Jaguari River, which crosses Extrema, receives water from fortified streams and increases the capacity of the Jaguari reservoir, part of the Cantareira system, which supplies 7.5 million people in greater São Paulo, one-third of the total population of the metropolis.

“If the watersheds are deforested, degraded and sedimented, merely building reservoirs solves nothing,” said Arlindo Cortês, the head of environmental management at Extrema’s Secretariat of the Environment.

Extrema’s efforts have translated into local benefits, but contributed little to the water supply in São Paulo, partly because it is over 100 km away, said Marco Antonio Lopez Barros, superintendent of Water Production for the Metropolitan Region at the local Sanitation Company, Sabesp.

“No increase in the capacity of the Cantareira System has been identified since the 1970s,” he said in an interview with IPS.

“Thousands of similar initiatives will be necessary” to actually have an impact in São Paulo, because of the level of consumption by its 22 million inhabitants, he said, adding that improvements in basic sanitation in cities have greater effects.

São Paulo experienced a water crisis, with periods of rationing, after the 2014 drought in south-central Brazil, and faces new threats this year, as it has rained less than average.

Extrema also felt the shortage. “Since 2014 we have only had weak rains,” said Cardoso. The problem is the destruction of forests by the expansion of cattle ranching in the last three decades.

“The creek where I used to swim has lost 90 percent of its water. The recovery will take 50 years, the benefits will only be felt by our children,” he said.

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Prejudice and Discrimination, the Uncured Ills of Leprosy

Civil Society, Democracy, Development & Aid, Editors’ Choice, Headlines, Health, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean, Population, Regional Categories

Health

Nippon Foundation President Yohei Sasakawa and Socorro Gross, Pan American Health Organisation representative in Brazil, hold a press conference in Brasilia at the end of a 10-day visit to this country by the Japanese activist who is also World Health Organisation Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Nippon Foundation President Yohei Sasakawa and Socorro Gross, Pan American Health Organisation representative in Brazil, hold a press conference in Brasilia at the end of a 10-day visit to this country by the Japanese activist who is also World Health Organisation Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

BRASILIA, Jul 11 2019 (IPS) – “The ambulance team refused to take my sick friend to the hospital because he had had Hanseniasis years before,” said Yohei Sasakawa, president of the Nippon Foundation, at one of the meetings held during his Jul. 1-10 visit to Brazil.


His friend was completely cured and had no visible effects of the disease, but in a small town everyone knows everything about their neighbours, he said.

This didn’t happen in a poor country, but in the U.S. state of Texas, only about 20 years ago, Sasakawa pointed out to underline the damage caused by the discrimination suffered by people affected by Hansen’s Disease, better known as leprosy, as well as those who have already been cured, and their families.

“The disease is curable, its social damage is not,” he said during a meeting with lawmaker Helder Salomão, chair of the Human Rights Commission in Brazil’s lower house of Congress, to ask for support in the fight against Hanseniasis, the official medical name for the disease in Brazil, where the use of the term leprosy has been banned because of the stereotypes and stigma surrounding it.

The highlight of the mission of Sasakawa, who is also a World Health Organisation (WHO) Goodwill Ambassador for Leprosy Elimination, was a meeting on Monday Jul. 8 with President Jair Bolsonaro, who posted a message on Facebook during the meeting, which had nearly 700,000 hits as of Thursday Jul. 11.

In the 13-and-a-half minute video, Bolsonaro, Sasakawa, Health Minister Luiz Mandetta and Women, Family and Human Rights Minister Damares Alves issued a call to the authorities, organisations and society as a whole to work together to eradicate the disease caused by the Mycobacterium Leprae bacillus.

A preliminary agreement emerged from the dialogues held by the Japanese activist with members of the different branches of power in Brasilia, to hold a national meeting in 2020 to step up the fight against Hanseniasis and the discrimination and stigma faced by those affected by it and their families.

The idea is a conference with a political dimension, with the participation of national authorities, state governors and mayors, as well as a technical dimension, said Carmelita Ribeiro Coriolano, coordinator of the Health Ministry’s Hanseniasis Programme. The Tokyo-based Nippon Foundation will sponsor the event.

Brazil has the second highest incidence of Hansen’s Disease in the world, with 27,875 new cases in 2017, accounting for 12.75 percent of the world total, according to WHO. Only India has more new cases.

The government established a National Strategy to Combat Hanseniasis, for the period 2019-2022, in line with the global strategy outlined by the WHO in 2016.

Brazilian Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights Damares Alves receives a gift from Yohei Sasakawa, president of the Nippon Foundation, at the beginning of a meeting in Brasilia, in which the minister promised to strengthen assistance to those affected by Hansen's Disease, including the payment of compensation to patients who were isolated in leprosariums or leper colonies in the past. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Brazilian Minister of Women, Family and Human Rights Damares Alves (L) receives a gift from Yohei Sasakawa, president of the Nippon Foundation, at the beginning of a meeting in Brasilia, in which the minister promised to strengthen assistance to those affected by Hansen’s Disease, including the payment of compensation to patients who were isolated in leprosariums or leper colonies in the past. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Extensive training of the different actors involved in the treatment of the disease and plans at the state and municipal levels, tailored to local conditions, guide the efforts against Hansen’s Disease, focusing particularly on reducing cases that cause serious physical damage to children and on eliminating stigma and discrimination.

Before his visit to Brasilia, Sasakawa, who has already come to Brazil more than 10 times as part of his mission against Hansen’s Disease, toured the states of Pará and Maranhão to discuss with regional and municipal authorities the obstacles and the advances made, in two of the regions with the highest prevalence rate.

“In Brazil there is no lack of courses and training; the health professionals are sensitive and give special attention to Hanseniasis,” said Faustino Pinto, national coordinator of the Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hanseniasis (MORHAN), who accompanied the Nippon Foundation delegation in Brasilia.

“Promoting early diagnosis, to avoid serious physical damage, and providing better information to the public and physical rehabilitation to ensure a better working life for patients” are the most necessary measures, he told IPS.

Pinto’s case illustrates the shortcomings in the health services. He was not diagnosed as being affected with Hansen’s Disease until the age of 18, nine years after he felt the first symptoms. It took five years of treatment to cure him, and he has serious damage to his hands and joints.

His personal plight and the defence of the rights of the ill, former patients and their families were outlined in his Jun. 27 presentation in Geneva, during a special meeting on the disease, parallel to the 41st session of the Human Rights Council, the highest organ of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Pinto is an eloquent advocate of the use of Hanseniasis or Hansen’s Disease, rather than leprosy, a term historically burdened with religious prejudice and stigma, which aggravates the suffering of patients and their families, but continues to be used by WHO, for example.

Yohei Sasakawa (2nd-L), president of the Nippon Foundation, accompanied by two members of his delegation, took part in a meeting with Congressman Helder Salomão (C), chair of the Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, who pledged to support initiatives to eliminate leprosy in his country. Faustino Pinto (2nd-R), national coordinator of the Movement for the Reintegration of Persons Affected by Hanseniasis (MORHAN), also participated. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Yohei Sasakawa (2nd-L), president of the Nippon Foundation, accompanied by two members of his delegation, took part in a meeting with Congressman Helder Salomão (C), chair of the Human Rights Commission of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies, who pledged to support initiatives to eliminate leprosy in his country. Faustino Pinto (2nd-R), national coordinator of the Movement for the Reintegration of Persons Affected by Hanseniasis (MORHAN), also participated. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Discrimination against people with the disease dates back to biblical times, when it was seen as a punishment from God, said Sasakawa during his meeting with Minister Damares Alves, a Baptist preacher who describes herself as “extremely Christian”.

In India there are 114 laws that discriminate against current or former Hansen’s Disease patients, banning them from public transport or public places, among other “absurdities”, he said.

In India, they argue that these are laws that are no longer applied, which justifies even less that they remain formally in force, he maintained during his meetings in Brasilia to which IPS had access.

Prejudice and misinformation not only subject those affected by the disease to exclusion and unnecessary suffering, but also make it difficult to eradicate the disease by keeping patients from seeking medical care, activists warn.

His over 40-year battle against Hansen’s Disease has led Sasakawa to the conclusion that it is crucial to fight against the stigma which is still rife in society.

He pressed the United Nations General Assembly to adopt in 2010 the Resolution for the Elimination of Discrimination against Persons Affected by Leprosy and their Families.

He said these attitudes and beliefs no longer make sense in the light of science, but persist nonetheless.

Treatment making isolation for patients unnecessary in order to avoid contagion has been available since the 1940s, but forced isolation in leprosariums and leper colonies officially continued in a number of countries for decades.

In Brazil, forced segregation officially lasted until 1976 and in practice until the following decade.

With multi-drug treatment or polychemotherapy, introduced in Brazil in 1982, the cure became faster and more effective.

Information is key to overcoming the problems surrounding this disease, according to Socorro Gross, the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) representative in Brazil who also held meetings with the Nippon Foundation delegation.

“Communication is essential, the media has a decisive role to play” to ward off atavistic fears and to clarify that there is a sure cure for Hansen’s Disease, that it is not very contagious and that it ceases to be so shortly after a patient begins to receive treatment, Gross, a Costa Rican doctor with more than 30 years of experience with PAHO in several Latin American countries, told IPS.

 

A Lifelong Battle Against the “Disease of Silence”

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Health

Mario Osava interviews YOHEI SASAKAWA, president of the Nippon Foundation

Yohei Sasakawa, president of the Nippon Foundation, is interviewed by IPS in the Brazilian capital, where he concluded a tour of the country aimed at promoting the elimination of Hansen's Disease, better known as leprosy, and also the stigma that make it the "disease of silence.” Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Yohei Sasakawa, president of the Nippon Foundation, is interviewed by IPS in the Brazilian capital, where he concluded a tour of the country aimed at promoting the elimination of Hansen’s Disease, better known as leprosy, and also the stigma that make it the “disease of silence.” Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

BRASILIA, Jul 10 2019 (IPS) – Yohei Sasakawa has dedicated half of his 80 years of life to combating the “disease of silence” and is still fighting the battle, as president of the Nippon Foundation and World Health Organisation (WHO) goodwill ambassador for elimination of leprosy, formally known as Hansen’s Disease.


His current emphasis is on combating the discrimination, prejudice and stigma that aggravate the suffering of people with leprosy, their families and even those who have already been cured. They also stand in the way of treatment, because people with the disease keep silent out of fear of hostility, he told IPS in an interview in the Brazilian capital.

“I travel around the world and speak out against the discrimination that marginalises those affected by the disease. But these are prejudices that have existed for 2,000 years; they cannot be overcome in two or three years. Many share my viewpoint and accompany me in the struggle. One day the discrimination will end. It is more difficult to cure the disease that plagues society than the illness itself. My effort is to hold a dialogue with presidents and ministers, people in positions of leadership, so that my message acquires political strength and can lead to a solution.”

Sasakawa visited Brazil Jul. 1 to 10, as part of his activism aimed at reducing the prevalence and social impacts of a disease stigmatised since biblical times. In Brasilia, he mobilised President Jair Bolsonaro, legislators and health and human rights officials to promote more intense efforts against the disease.

The idea of holding a national conference on Hansen’s Disease emerged from the meetings, with the political objective of disseminating knowledge and bolstering the disposition to eradicate prejudice, and the technical goal of improving strategies and efforts against the disease.

Brazil is second only to India with respect to the number of new infections diagnosed each year. The country implemented a National Strategy to Combat Hanseniasis from 2019 to 2022, with plans also at the level of municipalities and states, tailored to the specific local conditions.

The Tokyo-based Nippon Foundation is funding several projects and is preparing to support new initiatives in Brazil.

Brazil and Japan abolished the word leprosy from their medical terminology, due to the stigma surrounding it, and adopted the term Hanseniasis to refer to the disease caused by the Mycobacterium leprae bacillus. Sasakawa used this name during his interview with IPS, even though the WHO continues to employ the term leprosy.

IPS: Why did you choose as your mission the fight against Hansen’s Disease and the different kinds of harm it causes to patients and their families?

YOHEI SASAKAWA: It started with my father, the founder of the Nippon Foundation, who as a young man fell in love with a young woman who suddenly disappeared when she was taken far away and put in isolation. My father was appalled by the cruelty and, driven by a spirit of seeking justice, he started this movement. No one discussed the reason she was taken away, but I sincerely believe it was because she had Hanseniasis.

Later my father built hospitals in different places, including one in South Korea, where I accompanied him to the inauguration. On that occasion I noticed that my father touched the hands and legs of the patients, even though they had pus. He hugged them. That impressed me.

I was surprised for two reasons. It frightened me that my father so easily embraced people in those conditions. Besides, I wasn’t familiar with the disease yet. I saw people with a sick, unhealthy pallor. They were dead people who were still alive, the living dead, abandoned by their families.

I was filled with admiration for my father’s work and immediately decided that I should continue it.

IPS: What are the main difficulties in eradicating Hanseniasis?

YS: In general, when faced with a problem specialists and intellectuals come up with 10 reasons why it’s impossible to solve. I have the strong conviction that it is possible, and that’s why I address the problem in such a way that I can identify it and at the same time find a solution.

The people who find it difficult generally work in air-conditioned offices pushing around papers, studying the data. The most important thing is to have the firm conviction that the problem can be solved and then begin to take action.

The president of the Nippon Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa (C) is seen meeting with the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro (L), in an IPS screen capture from the video that the president broadcast on Facebook to raise public awareness about the importance of eliminating Hansen's Disease, better known as leprosy, and eradicating the prejudice faced by patients and their families. Credit: IPS

The president of the Nippon Foundation, Yohei Sasakawa (C) is seen meeting with the president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro (L), in an IPS screen capture from the video that the president broadcast on Facebook to raise public awareness about the importance of eliminating Hansen’s Disease, better known as leprosy, and eradicating the prejudice faced by patients and their families. Credit: IPS

Since the 1980s more than 16 million people have been cured of Hansen’s Disease. Today, 200,000 patients a year are cured around the world.

IPS: What role do prejudice, stigma and discrimination play in the fight against this disease?

YS: That is a good question. After working for many years with the WHO, focusing mainly on curing the disease, I realised that many people who had already been cured could neither find work nor get married; they were still suffering the same conditions they faced when they were sick.

I concluded that Hanseniasis was like a two-wheeled motorcycle – the front one is the disease that can be cured and the back one is the prejudice, discrimination and stigma that surround it. If you don’t cure both wheels, no healing is possible.

In 2003, I submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights a proposal to eliminate discrimination against Hanseniasis. After seven years of paperwork and procedures, the 193-member General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution to eradicate this problem that affects the carrier of the disease as well as those who have been cured, and their families.

But this does not mean that the problem has been solved, because prejudice and discrimination are the disease plaguing society.

People believe that Hanseniasis is a punishment from God, a curse, a hereditary evil. It’s hard to eradicate this judgment embedded in people’s minds. Even today there are many patients who have recovered and are totally healed, who cannot find a job or get married. In spite of the new laws, their conditions do not improve, because of the prejudice in people’s hearts.

In Japan, several generations of the family of someone who had the disease were unable to marry. This is no longer the case today.

That’s why I travel the world and speak out against the discrimination that marginalises those affected by the disease. But these are prejudices that have existed for 2,000 years; they cannot be overcome in two or three years.

Many share my viewpoint and accompany me in the struggle. One day the discrimination will end. It is more difficult to cure the disease that plagues society than the illness itself.

My effort is to hold a dialogue with presidents and ministers, people in positions of leadership, so that my message acquires political strength and can lead to a solution.

IPS: How did Japan manage to eradicate Hansen’s Disease?

YS: One way was the collective action of people who had the disease. Long-term media campaigns were conducted to spread knowledge about the disease. Movies, books and plays were also produced.

In Japan, Hanseniasis ceased to be the ‘disease of silence’. The nation apologised for the discrimination and compensated those affected. But in other countries, people affected by the disease have not yet come together to fight. Brazil, however, does have a very active movement.

IPS: As an example of what can be done, you cite Brazil’s Movement for the Reintegration of People Affected by Hanseniasis, MORHAN. Are there similar initiatives in other countries?

YS: Morhan really stands out as a model. Organisations have been formed by patients in India and Ethiopia, but they still have limited political influence. The Nippon Foundation encourages such movements.

IPS: You’ve visited Brazil more than 10 times. Have you seen any progress on this tour of the states of Pará and Maranhão, in the north, and in Brasilia?

YS: On that trip we couldn’t visit patients’ homes and talk to them, but we did see that the national, regional and local governments are motivated. We will be able to expand our activities here. In any country, if the highest-level leaders, such as presidents and prime ministers, take the initiative, solutions can be accelerated.

We agreed to organise a national meeting, promoted by the Health Ministry and sponsored by the Nippon Foundation, if possible with the participation of President Jair Bolsonaro, to bolster action against Hanseniasis.

We believe that this would generate a strong current to reduce the prevalence of Hanseniasis to zero and also to eliminate discrimination and prejudice. If this happens, my visit could be considered very successful.

IPS: What would you emphasise about the results of your visit?

YS: The message that President Bolsonaro spread directly to the population through Facebook during our meeting, with his view addressed to all politicians, to his team and and to all government officials on the need to eliminate the disease. I feel as if I have obtained the support of a million people who will work with us.

 

The Amazon Seeks Alternatives that Could Revolutionise Energy Production

Civil Society, Conferences, Development & Aid, Economy & Trade, Editors’ Choice, Energy, Environment, Featured, Green Economy, Headlines, Human Rights, Indigenous Rights, Integration and Development Brazilian-style, Latin America & the Caribbean, Projects, Regional Categories, TerraViva United Nations

Energy

Milton Callera (holding the microphone) and Nantu Canelos, members of the indigenous Achuar community, explain how the two solar boats built to transport their people on the Amazon rivers of Ecuador work. The project is from the Kara Solar Foundation, which is promoting an alliance to "solarise" river transport in the Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Milton Callera (holding the microphone) and Nantu Canelos, members of the indigenous Achuar community, explain how the two solar boats built to transport their people on the Amazon rivers of Ecuador work. The project is from the Kara Solar Foundation, which is promoting an alliance to “solarise” river transport in the Amazon rainforest. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

MANAUS, Brazil, Apr 5 2019 (IPS) – A large steel wheel, 14 meters in diameter and 1.3 meters wide, could be the energy solution of the near future, generating 3.5 megawatts – enough to supply a city of 30,000 people, according to a company in the capital city of the state of Amazonas in northwest Brazil.


An internal fluid, which expands through a chemical reaction in contact with an ink, drives the rotation that produces electricity without interruption for at least five years, say executives at Eletro Roda, a company in the city of Manaus that is marketing the invention and is building its first demonstration unit.

“Installation of the unit costs less than half that of an equivalent solar power plant and occupies an area of just 200 square meters, compared to 50,000 square meters for solar and 5,000 square meters for wind power,” Fernando Lindoso, the director of the company in which he is a partner, told IPS.

In other words, in the space occupied by a wind power plant that generates 3.5 megawatts (MW), 25 electro-wheels could be installed, multiplying the generating capacity by a factor of 25.

In addition, it has the advantage of stable generation, “free of the intermittency of other sources,” said Lindoso, who estimated the cost of each 3.5 MW unit at around five million dollars, a price that is reduced for social projects.

There are interested parties in Japan, India and other countries in Asia, as well as in European and Middle Eastern countries, based on earlier prototypes that never made it to market, he said.

There will be a smaller version, generating one MW, “30 percent cheaper”, of identical dimensions, but with three tons of the fluid that is biodegradable, instead of the four used in the other model.

This was one of the alternatives presented at the Fair and Symposium on Energy Solutions for Communities in the Amazon, which brought together more than 500 participants and 39 companies and institutions in Manaus Mar. 25-28.

“My favorite is the solar boat, a good example of how to find solutions,” said Sam Passmore, director of the Environmental Programme at the U.S.-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, one of the meeting’s eight international sponsors.

A large metal wheel that can be taken apart in order to facilitate transport produces electricity by rotating driven by an internal fluid, which is expanded by a chemical reaction. Producing 3.5 megawatts, the generator to be sold by Eletro Roda could produce a steady supply of electricity on just 200 square meters of space. Credit: Courtesy of Eletro Roda

A large metal wheel that can be taken apart in order to facilitate transport produces electricity by rotating driven by an internal fluid, which is expanded by a chemical reaction. Producing 3.5 megawatts, the generator to be sold by Eletro Roda could produce a steady supply of electricity on just 200 square meters of space. Credit: Courtesy of Eletro Roda

An alliance for solar-powered transportation in the Amazon is propose by the Kara Solar Foundation, of the indigenous Achuar people of Ecuador, who since 2017 have built two 18-passenger boats powered by electricity from a rooftop made of photovoltaic panels.

Kara means dream in the Achuar language and it is about maintaining the sustainable culture of river transport, as opposed to “the roads that threaten our territory, presented as if they represented development,” project coordinator Nantu Canelos told IPS during the fair.

“We want to build 300, 400 solar boats,” said Milton Callera, technical director of the Coordinating Committee of Indigenous Organisations of the Amazon Basin (Coica).

Riverside dwellers and indigenous people in Brazil are also seeking to “solarise” their boats, especially the small ones, dedicated to fishing and the transportation of a few people. The problem is where to put the solar panels on the so-called “flying boats”, without slowing them down.

The discussions at the symposium, however, focused on the need to universalise energy. “There are still 500,000 people, or 100,000 families, without access to electricity in Brazil’s Amazon region,” according to Paulo Cerqueira, coordinator of Social Policies at the Ministry of Mines and Energy.

Attorney Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman to hold a seat in Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, speaks at the opening of the Symposium on Energy Solutions for Communities in the Amazon, in the city of Manaus. She is from Roraima, the state with a high indigenous population in northwest Brazil that is suffering a serious energy crisis due to the interruption of supplies from neighboring Venezuela. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Attorney Joenia Wapichana, the first indigenous woman to hold a seat in Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies, speaks at the opening of the Symposium on Energy Solutions for Communities in the Amazon, in the city of Manaus. She is from Roraima, the state with a high indigenous population in northwest Brazil that is suffering a serious energy crisis due to the interruption of supplies from neighboring Venezuela. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

The Light for All Programme, launched in 2003, benefited more than 16 million people, according to the ministry, in this country of 208 million people. But so far, isolated and remote communities, not reached by the power grid, have been excluded.

There are also millions of families who do have electricity, but are outside the National Integrated System, including the entire state of Roraima, in the northeast, with 580,000 inhabitants, on the border with Venezuela, from where it received most of its electricity until the supply crisis that erupted in March in the neighboring country.

Isolated communities in the state receive electricity mainly from diesel- or other petroleum-fueled generators.

The slogan for such cases is to replace costly, slow and unreliable transportation fueled by fossil fuels on the Amazon rainforest rivers, and to prioritise clean sources of energy. Solar power is presented as the most feasible solution, since the Amazon rainforest is not windy.

The exception is Roraima, where the state´s numerous indigenous people are studying the adoption of wind farms to help defend themselves from the impacts of the Venezuelan crisis.

Autonomous solar generation projects are mushrooming in the Amazon, in indigenous villages and riverbank settlements, sometimes funded by non-governmental institutions and international assistance, such as the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Rainforest Foundation of Norway.

Willi Seilert, from the I9SOL Institute, explains how his solar panels are manufactured, during the Fair and Symposium on Energy Solutions for Amazonia, held in Manaus. He has a project to disseminate a thousand small solar panel factories in Brazil, in order to make photovoltaic generation cheaper in poor communities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

Willi Seilert, from the I9SOL Institute, explains how his solar panels are manufactured, during the Fair and Symposium on Energy Solutions for Amazonia, held in Manaus. He has a project to disseminate a thousand small solar panel factories in Brazil, in order to make photovoltaic generation cheaper in poor communities. Credit: Mario Osava/IPS

As a result, companies such as Fabortec Solar, which installs photovoltaic systems and sells equipment, focused on designing and offering off-grid projects, incorporating batteries and equipment that ensure operation and maintenance by the users themselves.

“The Amazon is a great market for those who don’t mind long trips and can work in places that are difficult to access,” a company technician told IPS.

The expansion of solar energy in many parts of Brazil, not only in the Amazon, prompted Willi Seilert to design a plan to promote 1,000 solar panel micro-factories throughout the country.

This could make the product cheaper and facilitate access by poor families and communities to solar energy, in addition to training, employing and generating income for nearly 20,000 people in the country, he estimated.

That’s why he founded the I9SOL Institute, where the “9” stands for innovation.

A 50-square-meter office, at least 10 people trained by two instructors, a glass-top table, an oven and a few tools are enough to produce small solar panels, he told IPS.

“The main obstacle is the import of photovoltaic cells, which Brazil does not produce and which has to pay too high a tariff, because of a strange legal measure adopted in 2012,” he lamented.

In addition to this, there are two industrial processes for processing silicon, and “the rest is packaging work that trained people can do without difficulty,” he said, before pointing out that this continues to be the case in China and India, which provides employment for millions of workers, especially women.

The project is to be launched in Teófilo Otoni, a city of 140,000 people in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais, whose mayor plans to employ prisoners nearing release in the solar industry, Seilert said.

There are more energy alternatives in the Amazonian region. Experiments with the use of oil from the babassu (Attalea speciosa) palm tree abundant in the Amazon and neighboring areas, and from andiroba (Carapa guianensis), a tree with oilseeds, for electricity generation were presented at the symposium.

Railton de Lima, the inventor of the Eletro Roda, which he called a “voluntary engine for mechanical energy generation,” also developed a system for converting urban waste into charcoal briquettes to generate electricity, making it easier to recycle metals.

This technology is already used in several Brazilian cities, including Manaus. Of Lima’s 28 inventions, more than half are already being used in the market, and others are being developed for energy purposes.

Creativity, which helps to seek more suitable alternatives, is also found in poor communities.

“The idea of the right to energy is powerful” and stimulates solutions, said Passmore of the Mott Foundation. In the same sense, the diversity of peoples and communities represented at the Manaus meeting was “a very positive factor,” he concluded.