The meandering road of Suape: the price of progress
"Suape means ‘meandering road’ in Tupi-Guarani," explains Antonio Resende, police chief and professor at the School of Applied Social and Human Sciences of Cabo de Santo Agostinho in his opinion piece on the port of Suape. "We have been walking down this meandering road for years now," he continues, "the road of misery of Suape , i.e. that which is not shown , that which they do not want you to know as a reader , that which is not understood and should not be distributed on pain of being declared an enemy of the system and being hunted down and devoured by the lions and lionesses of the state."
According to Heitor Scalambrini, Professor of Geography at the University of Pernambuco, the total area of the port complex amounts to 13,500 hectares. A license is granted for destroying 500 hectares of mangrove forest within this area on the basis of an as of yet unfulfilled agreement about compensation elsewhere.
"Is this the development we want?", the professor wonders. Do we want to destroy the environment of a part of our society in order to feed another part? Apparently we do: even the Environmental State Agency approved of the dredging plan. Most of the dredging in the port of Suape is carried out by the Dutch company Van Oord. For the two most recent dredging projects in the port, Van Oord acquired an export credit insurance policy from the Dutch government through Atradius DSB (Dutch State Business).
The construction of the port and petrochemical plants have led to a huge population increase, for which the infrastructure of the city was not prepared, with rising prices as a result. Thousands of migrant workers are likely to be laid off soon, due to stagnant construction. An additional rise in crime is to be expected. But Eduardo Campos, governor of Pernambuco and presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, is patting himself on the back for the economic development in the region. And media coverage of the degradation of coral has been limited to the resulting increase in shark attacks.
Apparently this is what we want.
Early December my colleague Wiert Wiertsema.and I paid a visit to the area. Both Van Oord and Atradius DSB endorse a CSR policy that focuses on human rights, and Both ENDS monitors the practical implementation of this policy. Wiert maintains contacts with several local and international NGOs, as well as individuals that are committed to the rights of the traditional inhabitants of the port area. United in the Fórum Suape, they discussed their plans for the coming year.
The two sides of the growth coin were clearly visible in Suape. The accelerated heartbeat of a city that is bursting at the seams: congested highways and brand new suburbs in which gleaming mega-bungalows are waiting for upcoming middle class residents. And only an hour away several thousand traditional fishermen and cockle gatherers are living in a very different pace. Fishermen who supply expensive restaurants with fresh catch have to travel further and further to catch their fish. Women are gathering clams, which is very demanding manual labour. These clams used to remain fresh in a bucket of water for three days, now they decay within one day. Probably this is due to the contamination of the water. Just like the fishermen, they have to travel further and further away for their catch because some areas in the harbor have been sealed off to them.
The stories are harrowing. Many houses have been already been demolished, often violently and unannounced. These are not the only means that are used to scare people away – some natural springs are filled up, for example. A local restaurant that offered water at a low fee was asked to quit by unidentified authorities. Meanwhile, the fishing community doesn’t know who to turn to.
Port authorities have compensated some people with a small sum of money, a bit of flour and some rice. Others are given alternative housing. In order to calculate these compensation arrangements, assets are valued. This happens only in very narrow and literal sense. It is not unusual for a yard with fruit trees, chickens, quick access to the sea a natural water source and a house of 10m2 to be compensated with a house of 10m2 on the outskirts of the city, next to a slum belt and with two other houses on both sides. This method of valuing assets is one of the problems Fórum Suape wants to address. An important element within this exercise is 'social mapping', i.e. mapping the actual value of the means of subsistence that are lost.
Compensation vs empowerment
As a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) specialist, I was curious what methods the group wanted to use to achieve this. Could the use of Social Return on Investment be an interesting method for them? Or perhaps the results would offer new information that could help in developing alternatives to measures that are too economic, like GDP. The group spoke about calling several meetings with the local population in order to write down their history, to map all activities they embark upon to support their livelihoods, to exchange experiences with communities on the other side of the harbor.
I tried to discern an answer to my question in the discussion, to no avail. So I asked in my somewhat wooden Portuñol: "What method are you going to use to calculate the value of the means of subsistence in such a way that they can be fully compensated?" Instead of a response all I received were glances of pity and slight disappointment. Compensation? “But Lieke , it's not about money, it’s about empowering these people. What matters is that they are heard and treated with respect. What matters is that the port authorities recognize that they are destroying their lives, and will start a sincere conversation with them in order to decide together on the best way forward.”
As an M&E specialist armed with an arsenal of methods, this answer made me feel lost for words.
Resende concludes his heartfelt cry with a question to the reader. "Quanto vale o preço do Progresso ? " Or, in English: “What price are we willing to pay for progress?”
You can find more information about the port expansion of Suape and the activities of Fórum Suape in our dossier.