Today, the project again is on the table after it was planned and dropped 120 years ago. Engineers first suggested drawing water from the Sao Francisco to fertilize the backlands of the semi-desert region that covers some 647,500 sq. kilometers (250,000 sq. miles) in 1886. Brazil was then still run by Emperor Pedro II, but with the monarchy’s fell in 1889, the idea was dropped.
Through ages, getting water to the arid ‘sertao’ has been an obsession for politicians and a puzzle for engineers. It lines Brazil’s northeastern Atlantic coast just south of the Amazon rainforest. To channel the waters of the Sao Francisco river — Brazil’s third largest — across four states the government of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva plans to embark on a gargantuan 4.5 billion reals (US$2 billion; euro1.68 billion) project.
But, with the project on the table, it kicked up controversies. Criticisms erupted from the possible environmental impact of rechanneling the ailing Sao Francisco to the project’s high costs — and that whether the money would be better spent on cisterns and catchments or not?