BELO HORIZONTE, Brazil, July 27 (IPS) — Water pouring into the streets and no water coming out of taps are two disasters that plague Brazilian metropolises, especially those along the upper reaches of rivers, such as Belo Horizonte, the capital of the southeast is Minas Gerais.
Flooding has become routine, fueled by the hilly topography, paved streams and impenetrable land surface in this city of 2.5 million people.
In January and February, as happens every year, torrential rains flooded the roads, sweeping cars, furniture, sometimes people, and flooded houses to the valley floor, where the streams used to flow freely but now lie buried and in culverts under streets. walk and walk.
Drinking water supplies have remained stable overall, but in 2015 and 2021 the city was on the brink of water rationing due to droughts that started the year before. However, some neighborhoods have complained about dry water faucets.
About 70 percent of the water consumed in Belo Horizonte comes from the Velhas basin, the headwaters of which are about 100 kilometers south of the city. The supply is dependent on rainfall upstream and there are no reservoirs to accumulate water.
Therefore, the care of the headwaters of the rivers and streams, located in the vicinity of Ouro Preto, a historic city that was the center of the 18th-century gold rush in Brazil, and of neighboring Itabirito, is vital to Belo Horizonte.
These towns are still involved in mining, although the industry there is now dominated by iron ore. They are part of the so-called Iron Quadrangle, which consists of 25 municipalities that produce almost half of Brazil’s iron ore.
Iron ore mining not only consumes abundant water and pollutes rivers, but also threatens major environmental and human disasters. Two tailings dams collapsed in the Quadrangle, in Mariana in 2015 and in Brumadinho in 2019, killing 19 and 270 people respectively.
In Brumadinho, the toxic mudslide reached the Paraopeba River, which supplied 15 percent of Belo Horizonte’s residents. Fortunately, three unaffected reservoirs on tributaries of the Paraopeba are the source of water for most of the metropolitan region, made up of 34 municipalities with a total population of six million inhabitants.
Frederico Leite, Itabirito’s environmental secretary, and his deputy Julio Carvalho, a forestry engineer, not only negotiated environmental measures with the mining companies, they also worked to clear the Itabirito River, which crosses the city, and to create a number of small river basins scattered across the countryside aimed at reducing erosion and retaining water in the soil.
These microwatersheds are “barraginhas” or wide pits dug on gently sloping land to slow the runoff of rainwater that causes erosion, and “caixas secas”, smaller but deeper pits dug next to roads to accommodate runoff that damages roads. and clogging streams with sediment.
Sedimentation is a major problem in the Velhas River, reducing the depth of the river and the quality of the earth-colored water.
In Ouro Preto, Ronald Guerra, former secretary of the environment and activist on the basin committees, proposes building a succession of small dams to retain water and breathe new life into forests.
Belo Horizonte is fighting against flooding and sewage that pollutes the waterways.
“The goal is to be able to swim, fish and play in the Onça River again by 2025,” as people did 70 years ago, dreams Itamar de Paula Santos, a community leader in the Ribeiro de Abreu neighborhood, one of the most affected by the flooding of the river, as it is at the lowest point.
The creation of linear parks along the river and the resettlement of residents in nearby flood-protected areas are among the actions that united the city government and community leaders such as Santos and, in other neighborhoods, Maria José Zeferino and Paulo de Freitas. In addition to the environmental benefits, the parks are recreational areas and give people healthy access to the river.
Apolo Heringer, a physician and college professor, has been fighting to “renaturalize” the Velhas basin since the 1990s. To this end, he created the Manuelzão Project, a university project inspired by a well-known local literary character.
Its strategy is to focus efforts on a 30-kilometer stretch of the Arrudas and Onça streams, which cross Belo Horizonte, and the Velhas River between the mouths of the two streams.
Eighty percent of urban pollution in the watershed is concentrated there, and eliminating it would allow it to “bring the fish back and swim” in the 500 miles of its waters.
© Inter Press Service (2022) — All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service