Officials tried Wednesday to persuade a Roman Catholic bishop to end a hunger strike that he began 10 days ago in protest of a $2 billion project for diverting river water to drought-stricken parts of Brazil's northeast.

Bishop Luiz Flavio Cappio and many residents along the Sao Francisco River (search) claim the project would render the waterway useless in a few years, hurting the livelihoods of people who depend on it. They say it is basically designed to benefit agriculture and large-scale food industries.ake four years to complete.

The project involves building about 400 miles of channels connecting the Sao Francisco River to waterways that dry up at times during the year. Water from the Sao Francisco would flow permanently into the smaller rivers and supply water year around to four northeastern states.

The water taken would be equivalent to 1.4 percent of what the Sao Francisco carries to the Atlantic Ocean, but Cappio and his supporters say that would result in the river clogging unless sediment is cleared to revitalize its flow.

In late September, Cappio moved to the city of Cabrobo (search), 1,100 miles northeast of Rio de Janeiro (search), close to where work on the project is scheduled to start once the environmental agency IBAMA (search) approves the project.

"Army engineers are ready to begin the work as soon as we get the green light," Integration Ministry spokesman Egidio Serpa (search) said by phone from Brasilia, the capital.

The government estimates 18 million people would benefit from the project, which is supported by bishops and politicians from the regions that get the water.

Cappio's protest illustrated the difficulties of sharing water among people with access to the river and those in the dry outback.

Archbishop Aldo Pagotto (search) of the northeastern state of Paraiba, which would benefit from the project, said Cappio was "committing a sin of practicing a sort of euthanasia."

Bishops from Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city, called on Cappio "to be open to dialogue with the government."

"The attitude (of the bishop) has already achieved its goal of calling attention ... to the plight of the poor caused by the project, the way it was prepared," they said in a statement.