War for water: inhabitants face consequences of contamination of the Doce River

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Since the rupture of the Samarco dam, the 280 thousand inhabitants of the municapility of Governador Valaderes struggle daily for drinkable water.

By Neudicléia de Oliveira, from Governador Valadares

Photos: Leandro Taques

On different levels, pretty much all municipalities bathed by the Doce River suffer the consequences of the biggest socioenvironmental crime in the history of the country. At the 420 kilometer margins that separate the place where the Fundão Dam burst, in Mariana (Minas Gerais), until the estuary of the Doce River, in Espírito Santo, are 39 municipalities with an estimated population of 1.2 million people.

One of these cities is Governador Valadares (MG). Since the rupture of the trailings dam of Samarco Vale/BHP Billiton), occurred on November the 5th, the population faces a war for water. Dependent of the water from the Doce River, the water supply of the city was cut for over a week and inhabitants had to stay in long queues for to access the tank trucks and bottles of mineral water.

Despite the supply of water having been normalized on November 16th, the quality of the water still causes distrust in the population. Sandra de Jesus, 50 years old, resident of the Turmalina neighbourhood and member of a recycling cooperative, believes that the water that arrives at her home is not drinkable. “The families dispute the water that is being distributed once a week here in the neighbourhood. It´s never enough. To be able to take some gallons of water home you have to stay hours in the queue until the truck arrives. When it does it´s a mess. Too many people and too little water. Also, we don´t know how much time it will be until the next distribution”, commented Sandra.

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On December 4, the Public Ministry of Minas Gerais informed that the samples of water taken on November the 20th from the Doce River reveal that “the elements of aluminium, manganese, turbidity of water and apparent colour presented concentrations higher than of the limits established in the Ordinance of the Ministry of Health”.

Asked if the consumes the water from the tap, Sandra was categorical: “You can´t drink that, no. Just wash the house, the dishes and shower. There are people getting ‘bumps’ from that water. I have a neighbour who´s all allergic. The doctor said it´s because of the water. I don´t cook with or drink that water”, said Sandra.