Tragedy in Mariana: Hundreds of Thousands Affected by Water Shortage

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Governador Valadares city paralyzed. More than 280 people without water.

By Jhonnathas Trindade – 11/20/15
Special Contribution for Tribuna CT
Governador Valadares (MG)

Doce River’s shoreline in downtown. Ibituruna, the main tourist attraction, in the background.

November 5, 2015 is a date that will never be forgotten in the Brazilian calendar. The largest environmental disaster in the country occurred on that date. An iron ore mine dam breached, causing colossal mud and flood damage along the way. The dam belongs to the mining company Samarco, which is owned by two shareholders: the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton Ltd and the Brazilian Vale SA.

The whereabouts: Mariana, MG. The official anthem of the first village, city and capital of the State of Minas Gerais reads, “Who comes to disturb my princess beauty sleep in the woods?” This is the city that witnessed its district of Bento Rodrigues being devastated. It will never be the same again. Hundreds of people have lost their homes, seven dead have already been identified, four bodies are still waiting to be recognized and a dozen people are still missing.

But something unexpected happened; the toxic mud affected the Doce River, considered one of the main rivers in Brazil because its route embodies the largest hydrographic basin in the country’s southeastern region. The city that suffered most of the damages was Governador Valadares, where the water supply has been shut down. Its 280 thousand residents have been left with no water; every drinking water company has run out of stock. The city has become stagnant, schools and universities have cancelled their activities and a state of emergency has been declared. A race for drinking water has begun. Donation campaigns have been created, and Samarco has taken responsibility to supply the city with water, but the population would need at least 15 million liters daily, and the company is only able to provide four million.

Governador Valadares is in chaos. Many residents have left their homes and gone to neighboring towns. The solution the water and wastewater company, Serviço Autônomo de Água e Esgoto (SAAE), has found was to treat the Doce River with black acacia bark polymeric coagulants, which separate mud from water. Nevertheless, the water residents are being supplied with has a very strong odor and elevated levels of chlorine but it still can be consumed. Notwithstanding, rumors on social media have circulated that the water is contaminated, which were promptly denied by the Governador Valadares City Hall. The use of the water supplied by SAAE, however, is for general cleaning and bathing. A few people have taken the risk of drinking that water. For that reason, the drinking water campaigns are ongoing.

The Doce River is practically dead. There is no life beneath its surface. Many families that make a living from fishing have lost their livelihood. The expectation is that it will take many years, decades and, perhaps, centuries to fully recover the river and it will be a costly process. Hopes are that one day the Doce River will be alive again, with all its natural resources, its fishes that fed so many families and the water that had supplied about three million people.

“Agua para Minas” Fund

Water Fund of the Crisis Management Committee of the city of Governador Valadares

Comitê de Gerenciamento de Crise – Prefeitura de Governador Valadares

(They do not have the capacity to receive donations online. Donations can only be made via bank transfers.)

Bank: Banco do Brasil

Branch #: 0116-x

Account #: 116.537-2

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