The Sweet River Turned Sour

The Doce River runs red some 50 miles downstream from Mariana, the municipality where the Fundão dam collapsed sending tens of millions of tons of iron tailings into the river. (Zoe Sullivan, 2016)
The Doce River runs red some 50 miles downstream from Mariana, the municipality where the Fundão dam collapsed sending tens of millions of tons of iron tailings into the river. (Zoe Sullivan, 2016)

In April, I accompanied a group of permaculture activists and artists during a trip along Brazil’s Doce River. “Doce” means sweet in Portuguese. They were aiming to connect with different communities to try to identify needs and potential responses to the environmental devastation resulting from the Fundão dam´s collapse on November 5th last year. Environmental news web site Mongabay.com published two reports I produced from this trip. Then first focuses on the impact that the roughly 50 million tons of toxic iron tailings had on the river basin and its communities, while the second examines the range of responses arising from the disaster.

Reporting on Zika, Highlighting Social Inequality

This protest banner reads “Sanitation Yes! Cable car No! ” It was part of a joint demonstration of the Rocinha and Vidigal favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Melaina Spitzer, Catalytic Communities, 2013.
This protest banner reads “Sanitation Yes! Cable car No! ” It was part of a joint demonstration of the
Rocinha and Vidigal favelas in Rio de Janeiro. Photo: Melaina Spitzer, Catalytic Communities, 2013.

The outbreak of Zika and the associated cases of microcephaly in Brazil have terrified many, and as the Rio Olympics draw near, the media are returning to the issue. Earlier this year, Al Jazeera English published my report from Recife on how gender, race and class play into this scenario. Recife is a majority Black city, yet wealth is unevenly distributed, and most low-income residents are people of color. One women’s rights advocate explained that women also represent the bulk of Brazil’s self-employed workers, which means they have no sick leave or safety net.

And while Brazil is fumigating to control the mosquito population, public health researchers sustain that mosquito-borne diseases like Zika, Chikungunya and Dengue, which are devastating the population, will be controlled more effectively once Brazil ensures universal access to running water and sewer systems.

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