segunda-feira, 13 de abril de 2009

Save the Santa Rita river and save Paracatu

Save the Santa Rita river and save Paracatu

Sergio Ulhoa Dani statement at the Paracatu City Hall in March 16th, 2009 

Rivers are our brothers. Whatever happens to them shall happen to us because all things are connected like the blood that unites us all. The shining water that moves in the streams and rivers is not just water, but the blood of our ancestors (1). This is a profound truth; if life depended on water in the past, it is not less true today and it shall not be lesser in the future. Water is life. Water is the blood that flows through our veins. We are water!

But our existence in Paracatu is threatened. These modern murderers mean to, slowly, kill us by thirst. First, our brother, the Rico Creek, was depleted by them and became poor. Then they bled to death our brothers little Domingos and little Antony, the São Domingos and Santo Antônio creeks. Now they want to kill our sister little Rita, the Santa Rita river – greedier and greedier for gold. The question remains as to whether we will be able to quench our own thirst after our family has been annihilated to satiate this RPM-Kinross Canadian transnational mining company? 

In the past we used to drink water straight from the  Rico creek, from the São Domingos creek, from the Santo Antônio creek, from the Termas creek, from the Santa Rita river, or from the Mestre-de-Campo water thrench and from various wells that reached down to the underground water. The city grew and water had to be pumped up through artesian wells. Most of the wells have now dried up or been contaminated – they had to be labeled inactive. As from 1996 we have been pumping water from the Santa Isabel river – 20 km away, at a skyrocketing energy price.

A power blackout, however, can stop water servicing to the city, affecting household, industrial and hospital usage. It happened already in Paracatu, during Mayor Manoel Borges’ time. It happened elsewhere too, as in New York in the seventies, and it lasted 25 hours. So these are not hypothetical situations that I mention, which could be irresponsibly called terrorism of my own. This is a warning about a very serious problem. It has happened not only in Paracatu but elsewhere as well and it is likely to occur again, generating a catastrophe in Paracatu due to lack of water. 

Human beings can resist 40 days with no food, but without water only up to 3 days. Ladies and gentlemen, be aware! We are talking about water and food safety measures and about life support in Paracatu – already under serious threat. 

We are neglecting a precious resource, rich and sacred water springs close to the city. It is crystal like, transparent freshwater, pure and good quality water which has already quenched our thirst in Paracatu in the 18th century, and which must be saved to do the same in future. I am talking about our sacred water reservoir, the Santa Rita river basin, specially at the Machadinho Valley, where once the Mestre-de-Campo water trench used to flow trough natural fall, bringing good quality, inexpensive water down to the downtown area of Paracatu. 


But while populations multiply and heat and pollution increase, our sacred sources of water and life run the risk of disappearing under the slurry of a transnational company. I ask "Are we to allow this barbarian crime, this act of irresponsibility and nonsense?” 

RPM-Kinross strategy to keep the town under siege, forcing the population to flee, makes it easier to this mining company to have access to the underground richness. Isn’t that the same strategy adopted by Israel towards the Palestinians?

The notorious Brazilian lawyer and environmentalist Ana Echevenguá describes this war strategy quoting the Jerusalem Post newspaper in 1990:

It is difficult to conceive any consistent political solution toward Israel survival which does not contemplate a complete and continuous control by Israel over water and sewage systems and associated infra-structure which includes distribution and road network that are essential for its operation, maintenance and access".  These were words from the then Israeli Minister of Agriculture about the need of Israel to control the Cisjordanian water resources, through occupation of that territory.

There is an identical situation here in Paracatu, where RPM-Kinross is acquiring land in the Machadinho Valley, dismantling a traditional community, in order to get control and access to the Valley and to its water.

The 1993 Oslo Peace Agreement determined that the Palestinians should have stronger control and more access to water in their region. However at that time Haim Gvirtzman, professor at the Hebrew University, declared that from the 600 million annual cubic meters of water retrieved from the Judea and Samaria water reservoirs, 500 million were meant to cope with 1/3 of Israeli needs. According to him that approach generated an acquired right to water. Questioned about Palestinian rights he added that Israel had to be concerned only with the minimal life standards for Palestinians – i.e. just to cover urban needs – from 50 to 100 million of annual cubic meters. Israel, he added, could cope with such a loss. However no agricultural activity should be allowed because that would imply greater loss for Israel. Certainly, he continued, we must not allow the Palestinians to supply the water needs for the Gaza strip from the mountain aquifers. If by purifying sea water becomes a realistic solution we shall then let they do it to supply for the need of the Gaza strip residents.

Again here we see such an incredible similarity. The Santa Rita river basin, due to its proximity to Paracatu town, and due to its availability of rich land and water resources, is the ideal place for food production and water supply to Paracatu. Along this basin, there are many farms that rely on irrigation to keep on producing food. In fact, the Santa Rita-São Pedro-Entre Ribeiros hydrographic basin is the most important site for irrigated agriculture in the Paracatu district. All this is being dismantled or threatened by water allowances given by the state government to the mining company. The government and RPM-Kinross claim that there are still technical solutions and water left to Paracatu, namely the pumping and cleaning of water from the Santa Isabel river. It is also expensive water, but this is a problem left to the Palestinians of Paracatu.

War for water allows for everything, as the Israelis bomb small and large size water containers. They also confiscate water pumps, they destroy water wells, they prohibit opening of new wells and new water springs. Israel irrigates 50% of its agricultural land, whereas agriculture in Palestinian sites demands previous authorization.

RPM-Kinross has got the largest water allowance in the Paracatu district. It is water enough to irrigate an area of over 100 thousand hectares, that is, an area three times as large as the area currently irrigated in Paracatu. For what?

Property over water sources is an old greedy approach. British and French alike had defined frontiers in the Middle East, specially in the Palestinian region, aiming for the Jordan River waters site.

As from 1948 Israel prioritizes projects, belligerent ones included, to grant their water control in the region. 

Joint management”, “partnership”, “egalitarian water consumption”, “ecologic residual flow volumes”, ethics and water consensus – words that sound nice on paper, at negotiation tables, in the media... Utopia though, in real practice.

RPM-Kinross managers and mining representatives – let me remind you that you have already mutilated or buried down 3 vital streams in Paracatu and we now understand you are getting ready to bury down the Santa Rita river springs in order to make feasible a new tailings dam. 

This is a warning letter, be aware that the Santa Rita river is family to us. Do not touch it. Do not disturb our little sister Ritinha, as we put it.  This is family business, for the great family of Paracatu.

We shall not tolerate you to annihilate any of our brothers or sisters – sentencing us to die from thirst. Do not damp your trash into our sacred waters because by doing so you are causing more bloodshed.

Whatever happens to the Santa Rita river, shall happen to people because there is a connection among everything.