by Anna Irrera

Some of you may know me as the Olympics Diva from my articles on the upcoming Winter Games in Turin, Italy. Today, however, I’m writing to ask for your help.

My family and I have been active in helping underprivileged children in the city of Salvador in the Brazilian state of Bahía for over six years. In 1998, my parents decided to adopt a child in Brazil. While there, they met Father Clodoveo Piazza, an Italian Jesuit who has been working in Bahía for over twenty years, where he heads a government ministry established to battle poverty.

In order to sustain the works of Padre Piazza, my parents created an NGO called Organizzazione di Aiuto Fraterno–Italia (OAFI-I, As many of you know, Brazil is a beautiful land—but it is also a land of contradictions. Poverty is alarmingly high, despite the country’s wealth of resources.

Today I am writing in regards to a specific emergency some of you may have heard about.

Brazil’s government, under the leadership of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has embarked on a project to deviate water from the São Francisco River in Bahía to a network of canals and aqueducts with the goal of providing water to four arid states in north-eastern Brazil.

Apart from the disastrous environmental effects that would result from such a diversion, Father Piazza reports, the majority of the diverted water would go to large farms owned by wealthy landowners. Only four percent of the water would go to homes of poor families in the area, who would be charged a fee to use it.

The project would also leave thousands of people in currently living near the river with no water. The project aims to supply water hundreds of kilometers away at a very high cost, when it would be less expensive and more beneficial to the poor living in these drought-afflicted regions to build rainwater collection tanks locally.

The project goes against a decision of the Federal Regional Court.

It is against the Permanent Forum for the Safeguard of the Rio São Francisco.

The project has not been authorized by Bahía’s hydrographical committee.

The National Conference of Bishops in Brazil (CNBB) has condemned the project because the interested populations have never discussed it. The project has also been condemned by the World Bank, the Brazilian Society for Scientific Progress, and by many international experts, who unanimously claim that this endeavour will only benefit a very small percentage of the poor population living in the regions where the river is to be diverted.

Incredibly, years ago, this same project was also condemned by technicians in President Lula’s own party—yet he continues to ignore the situation, having recently sent troops to patrol the zone where the work on the project has begun.

Bishop Dom Luiz Flávio Cappio of Barra, a small village near the river, began a hunger strike on September 26, declaring that he will stop only when President Lula abandons this absurd project. Padre Piazza and the Governor of Bahía went to visit him last Sunday and found him determined to continue his peaceful protest.

You may be wondering what you can do to help.

Bishop Cappio has organized a web-based petition to send to President Lula. The following is an English translation:

“Esteemed Mr. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva,

The Signatories with their signatures wish to express their support to Dom Luiz Flávio Cappio, bishop of the dioceses of Barra (Bahía, Brasil). He is on hunger strike to protest against the project to move the River São Franciso.

To save the life of the São Francisco River and the life of our dear brother, Bishop Dom Luiz Flávio, we request you, esteemed Mr. President, remove the project. This is Dom Luiz’s only condition in order to stop his hunger strike.”

The petition can be found at

It will mean so much for the lives of so many if you take the time to visit the website and add your name to the list. It may seem like a small act, but signing the petition—and spreading the word about this emergency—could make a huge difference. Please take the time to forward the article to your friends as well.

On behalf Father Piazza and OAF-I, thank you so much.


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The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Tango Diva.