Affected people in Espírito Santo have their sources of income affected by the contamination of mining tailings in the Rio Doce 

Urbanization has been a fairly recent phenomenon in Espírito Santo. Research indicates that, around 1960, approximately 70% of the population living in ES lived on the farm, whose production was specialized in coffee and subsistence crops. The expulsion of a large number of families from the countryside to Greater Vitória and the urban centers of the interior was driven by the federal policy of eradicating coffee plantations. In this phenomenon, many of the cultural references of traditional peoples and of a significant proportion of the descendants of immigrant families from other countries have adapted to their regional roots, integrating themselves into work on the land, many of them dedicated to the responsible use of the natural heritage of a territory abundant in water. Over time, the process of predatory industrial production has destroyed dreams of building a healthy regional space that respects nature and is less socially unequal. 

Thinking about this on May 1, International Workers’ Day, reflects on the more than seven years since the Fundão Dam burst and the destruction of lives in Mariana, Minas Gerais. Thinking about a set of new disasters, which are multiplying as a consequence of the one that, to this day, continues to cause damage to the lives of the families affected. This is one of the reasons why it is considered one of the greatest ecological, technological, social and cultural (socio-technological) disasters of our time. 

According to Fabrício Caldeira Alves, or Fafá, a fisherman from Itaúnas, in Conceição da Barra, on the north coast of Espírito Santo, fishing activity has been impacted by the contamination of the waters in the area. “In the past, you took your merchandise, sold it safely and everyone was looking for it. Today, our fish is sitting in the freezer. Our work is being impacted, we can’t sell our goods because many people are worried about whether the fish is contaminated or not.” 

The daily lives of the affected families have been affected by the greed and irresponsibility of the operators of the large mining corporations, which have caused socio-environmental destruction along the Rio Doce Valley, in the neighboring lands and on the Atlantic coast that extends beyond the territorial waters of Espírito Santo. The behavior of some government authorities and parliamentarians who, instead of looking for more effective institutional ways to hold the companies responsible, try at all costs to prove that the disaster was a fatality and that the waters are now suitable for use in agricultural activities and for human consumption. 

For Fafá, the lack of information causes uncertainty about the present and future of the work in the region: “We want to know the degree of contamination of these fish in our territory. After the mud, there was an impact, but we don’t know about the reports, what is happening in our territory. We’re waiting for an answer from the authorities, from the competent bodies, who will come and talk to us about the degree of contamination of our fish.” he said. 

The disaster took away the livelihoods of families who derived their sustenance from the river and marine waters polluted by heavy metals and a variety of other carcinogenic metals.  It has taken away spaces of culture and ancestry from traditional peoples and communities.  It has taken away spaces for leisure and solidarity production from young people, children and women. It has removed and silenced voices that will not be silenced once again.  

If care was not taken to prevent this, let the objective conditions for rebuilding job opportunities and the economic support of families that have so far been socially unprotected, left to the fate of greedy choices by large companies and mining companies, be created now. 

We at Adai, who are advisors to those affected in ES, reaffirm that our commitment is to the people. Working, living, dreaming and hoping is the right of the people affected. Having the dignity to do so is the duty of the companies responsible for the damage. For fair and comprehensive reparations for people affected by dams. 

Text: Economy, Work and Income thematic area, Adai’s ATI in Espírito Santo 

Art and proofreading: Communication Collective, ATI of Adai in Espírito Santo.