After Vale’s socio-environmental crime in Brumadinho, the community’s struggle is strengthened through self-management of the water supply.
“We have to take care of the Jangada springs. We have to take care of what remains. Water always finds a way to run free of the dirt that mining produces and that’s what worries me, because we may all run out of good water. The water is ‘wise’ and will always find a way to live, even if it’s far from us”. That is how 74-year-old retiree, Silvio Lima, a resident, born and still living in Jangada, in the rural area of Brumadinho (MG), began his speech at the event “Valuing Memory for Present Action: Truth on behalf of Water and Life – The story of resistance to mining in Brumadinho 2010-2019”, carried out as part of the Brown January Campaign, which also paid tribute to the 272 fatal victims of the greatest socio-environmental crime committed by Vale in Brazil.
Mr. Silvio’s concern is the same as that of the 200 families that live in the Jangada community, located about 15 km from the tailings dam of the Córrego do Feijão, in Brumadinho. After a year of the crime that devastated much of the fauna and flora of the Paraopeba River basin, 48 cities, with about 1.3 million inhabitants, continue with the use of the river water suspended. The water problem in Minas Gerais is a topic widely debated by committees and associations that ensure the good living of the communities affected by the mining chain in the state.
Before the pollution with ore tailings, the Paraopeba River was responsible for 30% of the total supply of the Metropolitan Region of Belo Horizonte (RMBH), with the other 70% coming from the Rio das Velhas basin. In January 2019, the Rio das Velhas Basin Committee warned of the risks: 40 of the 70 tailings dams along the river course were at risk of rupture, which threatens drinking water for drinking, cooking and the other basic daily activities of 5 and a half million people, in the third largest metropolitan region in the country.
In the last four years, Vale S.A. devastated the Doce and Paraopeba rivers in Minas Gerais, spreading scenes of destruction throughout Brazil and the world. What’s more, Rio das Velhas, one of the largest tributaries of the São Francisco River, in the state of Minas Gerais, runs serious risks of being contaminated.
According to data from the classification of the National Mining Agency (ANM), Brazil has about 200 dams with high damage potential. Minas Gerais is the state with the most dams with potentially high damage. Among the almost 200 cataloged, 132 are in the state. For the result, the analysis takes into account loss of human lives and social, economic and environmental impacts in the event of a disruption. In the report, Dam 1 of the Córrego do Feijão in Brumadinho was considered to be of low risk, which shows that there is no way to accurately measure which dams are really safe and the devastation that a breach can cause.
The Jangada community and the Casa Branca Waters and Mountains Movement, which have been monitoring the operations of Vale S.A.’s Paraopeba Complex since 2010, point to the strengthening of the coping process after the criminal rupture of the dam in Brumadinho. “Our water is non-negotiable, our lives are not for sale. We have been defending for years our right to say No! to mining”, says Carolina de Moura, a journalist, farmer and resident of the region, also coordinator of the Jangada Community Association.
A place where the memory of water is alive
Jangada’s water supply network was built and is administered in a community manner. Historically, more than 100 years ago, long before any mining company arrived in the region, the population captured and distributed water for their daily consumption in the springs of the Jangada stream. There are at least six springs that suffer serious threats as mining progresses. The community today has a large spring, with a flow rate of 62 liters per second (90 cubic meters per hour).
Residents organize themselves through the Jangada Community Association, which was founded in 2007. The history of defending the waters and mountains in the region has been built by a number of people and groups, and not just by the Jangada Association. In some moments, the struggle has been carried out more extensively by the Casa Branca Waters and Mountains Movement, articulated with other groups and organizations in Brazil and abroad.
“We have as our central focus the defense of water as a human right and something essential to life. In the midst of intense trauma and a lot of pain, we were forced to expand our agenda, and now we also work for Truth, Justice, Comprehensive Reparation and Non-Repetition Guarantees. We want no one, anywhere in the world, to go through what we are going through”, states Carolina in an exclusive interview for the Water for People Campaign. In addition to the political influence with Justice institutions and licensing agencies, something relevant in the history of the residents’ organization is the work of cultural and popular education: Festive Afternoons for Waters and Mountains, cinema in the square, theater at school, seminars and public debates.
According to Carolina de Moura, who coordinates the Association’s activities, after doing an insistent advocacy work with Brumadinho City Hall and acquiring supplies for the renovation of the water distribution network, through their organization, the residents, control, since 2013, the water supply system and its quality. Mr. Silvio is responsible for maintaining the catchment area. “This was a great achievement, as we were able to place thicker pipes, which significantly improved the flow of water into people’s homes,” he says.
Positively, water self-management in the Jangada community can be considered a source of inspiration for other communities, which also face mining impacts in Brazil. Every community, organized around the care of springs, which can be destroyed with the mining chain in the state, has been strengthened in the awareness of integral ecology and the importance of people’s organization. For them, community-based water self-management means autonomy over an item that is essential for survival. “We are not hostages of public authorities or of any company for the distribution of water in the neighborhood”, proudly say the residents in their periodic meetings.
“I have the impression that people are unaware that water distribution management can be done this way. This is provided for in the Basic Sanitation Guidelines Law (Federal Law 11,445 / 2007). I believe that our experience shows in some way the importance of people taking care of their territory and taking collective initiatives to solve for themselves some of their problems”, adds Carolina.
“Fighting for the defense of water, people and the Common House is necessary, worthy and rewarding.”
“I think our story is inspiring because we don’t give up. We had problems with the water distribution network and struggled until we managed to build a new network. Even knowing that Vale is a giant and acts in an unscrupulous manner to reach its goals, we are not intimidated and fight tirelessly to prevent the renewal of environmental licenses and the expansion of projects in the Paraopeba Complex. The defeats we suffer are the result of the irresponsibility and inefficiency of those who have a duty to take care of the needs of the community”, stresses Carolina.
For the residents of Jangada and Casa Branca, community organizing has been an important healing tool. “After the trauma we experienced, the scenes of war and terror we faced, the crazy eternal longing for all the lives we lost and of the peace and quiet that disappeared, we continue, day by day, to reinvent ourselves in order to transform mourning into struggle. We get together, debate, let off steam, support each other, strengthen our relationships and move on”, she adds.
Through the technical support of partners, especially the Movement for the Mountains and Waters of the State of Minas (MovSAM) and the Movement for the Preservation of Gandarela Serra, residents became stronger and, in the process, began to understand that it is not possible to reconcile the expansion of mining activities with water security. Iron ore and water are in the same geological layer: the iron quadrilateral is also an aquifer quadrilateral. Amid the explosion of a serious water and climate crisis, whose trends for the future are not encouraging, underground springs are priceless gems for society. “It is already clear both from a scientific (theoretical and analytical) and empirical (practical) point of view: either mining expands its activities or the springs are preserved. The two are incompatible, consensus is not possible, it is one or the other, it is a territorial dispute. My territory, my body. Humanity needs to be aware that it is making a choice. Defend your life. Defend water”, concludes and calls for the movement’s coordination.