In most fragile communities the arrival of Coronavirus adds itself to other ongoing crises, as it is the cases for Piquiá de Baixo in Brazil where pollution by mining activities and flooding already posed serious threats.
On March 16, the community of Piquiá de Baixo (Açailândia, Maranhão, Brazil) was flooded and remained underwater for a few days. Due to the heavy rains, the dams of several fish raising reservoirs of farms upstream of the Piquiá River broke down, causing a violent flood, which invaded the houses of the community, displaced 253 people and destroyed at least 25 houses. Besides the houses, residents lost many of their belongings. Currently, 17 families remain homeless. The local community buildings (churches, Mothers’ Club, school) are serving as a support point for people to take shelter and keep the belongings they managed to remove. Highway 222, which joins the south of Maranhão to the capital São Luís and other cities in the northeast, was hit by the force of the waters, which opened a wide gullet on the asphalt, needing several days to guarantee circulation throughout the state. Railway bridges that pass over the community may have their structure compromised.
This is yet another tragedy that has come to affect a community that has been severely hit by nearly 35 years of negative impacts and rights violations caused by pollution resulting from Vale SA’s mining operations and the production of pig iron, steel, cement and thermoelectric energy by companies’ steelmakers that settled in Piquiá, in the context of the grand carajás programme. Co-responsible for these violations are public institutions and the local government, due to their complicity, omission and neglect, lack of inspection and respect for environmental laws, lack of support and effective measures regarding the complaints, proposals and remedial actions demanded by the community and its organisations.
Thus, in March 2020, residents are surrounded by water, affected by pollution, impaired in their respiratory conditions and, still, threatened by the imminent arrival of the Coronavirus. The number of cases has been multiplying every day in Brazil. Unfortunately, the trend is for an exponential increase in the number of cases in the coming weeks across the country.
Most of the residents of Piquiá de Baixo work in the informal sector and/or on their own and cannot work at home. For this reason, they depend on State support to be able to stay at home and ensure their food security, personal hygiene and survival.
In addition, the probable interruption of the construction works at Piquiá da Conquista will affect the income of several families in the community, since several construction workers are from the community itself.
Finally, it should be remembered that, due to the historical exposure to air pollution and the chronic respiratory diseases resulting from it, all residents of Piquiá de Baixo, regardless of age, are in the so-called risk groups, making the recovery more difficult in case of contamination with the new Coronavirus.
Download the full document about Piquiá de Baixo below, including a call to support the community.
For further information about the struggle of the Piquiá de Baixo community, you can visit the following websites: www.piquiadebaixo.com.br and www.justicanostrilhos.org.
See also “Brazil: Pandemic Disproportionately Impacts Communities Affected by Corporate Pollution and Neglected by the State”, International Federation for Human Rights (fidh) press release 29 April 2020.
Photo: People using the railway bridge to access the Piquiá community.
Credit: Justiça nos Trilhos