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Communities on Brazil’s ‘River of Unity’ tested by dams, climate change by Sarah Sax June 11,2020   |  Source: Mongabay

The landscape where the São Francisco River enters the Atlantic Ocean seems so out of place it makes one wonder if this is still coastal Brazil. White sand dunes stretch as far as the eye can see; clusters of cashew trees throw flickering shadows like ocean waves on the sand.

Here among these shifting dunes escaped slaves in the 19th century hid from, and out-maneuvered, the Portuguese who came searching for them. Eventually, the formerly enslaved founded the Pixaim Quilombo near the mouth of the river and developed a reliable sustainable lifestyle and community well attuned to the dynamic, always changing estuary.

But it is a lifestyle utterly dependent on the São Francisco River; reliant on the planting of rice in marshes downstream and on catching plentiful freshwater fish upstream.

Now, varied and growing water demands by upstream dams and other users are threatening the long-established quilombo lifestyle — demands that experts predict will worsen severely in Brazil’s Northeast, one of the nation’s most climatically vulnerable regions.

“We used to catch fish that were meters long, but now you have to go much farther up the river to find them,” remembers 84-year-old Aladim, who lives in Pixaim and goes by his first name only. “The fish left, so the


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