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Onde eu nasci passa um rio
Que passa no igual sem fim
Igual, sem fim, minha terra
Passava dentro de mim
Where I was born flows a river
That flows in the endless equal
Equal, no end, my land
That passed inside me
Something serious happens in the heart of São Paulo. Its main artery, the Tietê River, and many watercourses in the Metropolitan Region overflowed on the night of Sunday, March 10. Houses on the slopes were also affected. The consequences of the heavy rain were the worst possible. More than ten people died. In the beginning of the year, a similar situation killed six people in the city of Rio de Janeiro. All this sadness exposes a great emptiness in the debate in civil society and in public authorities: the environmental and urban matters are being discussed separately. In a country where the urbanization process is one of the most intense in the world from the 1960’s on, such segregation is an irresponsibility.
Themes like real estate especulation, housing deficit and risk areas do have to do with the environment. Climate change, by the way, has a devastating power of destruction over the great urban centers. And the preservation of forests is a fundamental factor to control them. That is why the residents of the Southeast Region do have to worry about the future of the Amazon. The urban and environmental phenomena interact all the time.
Even locally, this can be observed. The preservation of rivers and watercourses in the Great São Paulo would be essential to avoid disasters like the one caused by the storm last weekend, as the geographer Gustavo Veronesi, of the Foundation SOS Mata Atlântica emphasizes: “If the riparian forest were cared for, they would drain the water and the rivers wouldn’t overflow whenever it would rain a little harder”. Veronesi explains that it is necessary also to care for the auxiliary river springs, in order to prevent sewage and trash from being thrown there. Another source of dirt is the air pollution, that reaches the river waters through rain. As you can see, everything is related.
The pollution of the rivers of the regions doesn’t only promote the degradation of the metropolis, but also brings disease to the population. It seems obvious, so, that their preservation should be a priority for São Paulo. And why, in this coming and going of administrations, is nothing done? Veronesi affirms that the dominant mentality is that the rivers are the problem, not the solution. Therefore, the public power prefers to dam or simply land them, leaving the city even more watertight. “The people need to understand that it wasn’t the water that invaded the street, it was the street that invaded the water”, says the geographer.
Rio de Janeiro has no alternative but to wear the shoe presented by Veronesi. According to Institute Pereira Passos, in the capital only there are 22 subterranean rivers, which few people have heard of. Watercourses like Papa Couve, Algodão e Jacó are ignored by the “carioca”. The Berquó River, that passes under a cemetery in the South Zone, is filthy by the time it reaches Botafogo Bay, making for a melancholic scene for the municipality. This way, without anyone seeing, houses in poor areas, buildings and residences in the so called formal city, with its clandestine connections, take sewer to the waters of a place called Rio (River) and whose population is called “fluminense”, which means “from the river”.
Part of the Carioca River, that gives the nickname to who is born in Rio, is also submerged in four neighbourhoods in the South Zone, reaching Flamengo beach in a deplorable state. More: in the metropolitan region of Rio de Janeiro, 34 watercourses drain into the Guanabara Bay, almost all of them full of trash and sewage. All of this increases even more the risks during floods. It’s what happens in the slums of Rio. Despite the fact that the houses are located in the vicinity of watercourses, nearly nothing is done to improve the drainage. The sewage and garbage of the communities converge to the ditches. What would bring more security and health to the families would be something referred to as basic: sanitation.
But the lack of action by the governments in relation to risks like this has prevailed. It wasn’t always like this. In Rio de Janeiro, the Tijuca Forest, under the supervision of Major Gomes Archer from 1861 on, had its springs reforested. Reason: the water supply crisis in the capital of the country’s empire, provoked by the deforestation caused by urban growth and expansion of the coffee plantations.
The measures, however, cannot be illusory. In the central area of Belo Horizonte, the main river of the city, that runs from east to west, has also been landfilled. It’s the Arrudas Creek. For the Minas Gerais planner Cláudia Pires, from the National Commission for Urban Policy of the Brazilian Architects Institute, what was done there is falsely ecological. “They made the river subterranean, instead of cleaning it. On top of it, they installed plates of cement and a flower bed”…
If the rivers are the arteries of the planet, they should run free and healthy. What we see in the beginning of this year is a process similar to embolism, when one or more veins are blocked by a blood clot.
It’s fundamental to have empathy for our rivers in times where the water issue is a global challenge and we are witnessing our waters being so mistreated. The traditional peoples maintain a sacred relation with their rivers. If we remember that we are 70% water, it all makes sense. To preserve the rivers is to ensure our survival in many aspects.
To what end are we mutilating and poisoning what will guarantee our future?