Racism in Brazil, especially in large cities such as the city of São Paulo, goes beyond reproachful looks at black people in a store, truculent approaches by the police and difficulty in getting formal work. Housing conditions and lack of basic sanitation are also part of the routine.
Environmental racism has as its concept the daily problems faced by those who live in precarious areas and was debated by the black Brazilian movement at COP26 (26th United Nations Conference on Climate Change), which ended last weekend in Glasgow, Scotland.
The expression, which emerged in the United States during the struggles of the black movement of the 1960s for civil rights, fits perfectly in the occupations or on stilts over streams in the city of São Paulo, places where most residents identify themselves as black or brown. , and where the simple act of quenching thirst can take a person to the hospital, due to water contamination and the lack of a sewer system.
“The inefficiency of public policies on housing, health and access to basic sanitation services, added to the advance of climate change, intensify problems such as floods, landslides and waterborne diseases, among others”, says the professor and member of the Coalition Black for Rights, Thaís Santos, who attended the UN meeting, detailing environmental racism.
Thais recalled that his trip to COP26 was the first participation of a delegation of the Brazilian black movement in the conference on climate change negotiations. In addition to environmental racism, she addressed the genocide of the black population. “We need to organize ourselves worldwide to show that without racial justice there will be no climate justice.”
The Map of Inequality 2021, produced by Rede Nossa São Paulo, shows that the black population lives, proportionally, on the outskirts, places where basic sanitation tends to be more precarious, due to irregular installations. While in Jardim Ângela, in the south zone, the rate of blacks reaches 60%, in Moema, an upscale neighborhood in the north zone, the proportion of blacks is only 6%.
For Paloma Lima, project assistant at Rede Nossa São Paulo, what can be seen is that the regions with the greatest environmental infrastructure problems are more deficient in the city.
“These are regions that have a greater proportion of slum domiciles, with greater unemployment and income vulnerability,” he says. “These regions also have the highest proportion of black and brown population. So, when we talk about environmental racism, it’s very much related to where people live.”
Paloma also explains that environmental racism is a consequence of the unequal racial structure policy, which occurs throughout the country. “This predominantly affects black people, who are already removed from access to rights, services and public policies that are lacking in the most vulnerable territories.”
Unemployed since the beginning of the pandemic, last March, Jordana Santos Rocha, 34, is well aware that environmental racism is one more obstacle among so many ahead of blacks. She blames her lack of education, where she lives, as well as the color of her skin, for not getting a job. “Besides not having studied, being black and saying that you live in the favela ends up with any chance”, she says.
A resident of Vila dos Heróis, in the region of Brasilândia (north of São Paulo), Jordana lives with her two children, an 8-year-old girl and a 2-year-old boy, in a wooden shack with two rooms. A bigger one, which doubles as a living room, bedroom and kitchen, and a small bathroom.
Last Wednesday (17), while she was cooking beans, and the smell of the seasoning emanated through the house, the girl was watching a cartoon on TV. The youngest, almost 2 years old, only in a diaper, was on the doorstep wanting to go out into the street.
The main complaint is about the sewage, which she classifies as “very bad”, but she also does not spare complaints about the quality of the water that the family consumes. “It gives diarrhea when it’s too hot, as it [água] it gets very hot,” he says.
Regarding expectations for the future, professor Thaís Santos says that it is necessary to combat racism as the centrality of actions.
“Black people are killed every day as a result of invisible dynamics of degradation in their territories. Our society is based on a proposal of social organization of racial domination ideologically embedded in the logic and idea of racism”.
“As Professor Dulce Pereira said, environmental racism is one of the embodiments of the racism that structures the country”, concluded Thaís.
problem is everywhere
Environmental racism is visible in all regions of the city and it is not even necessary to go to the most remote outskirts to find the lack of sanitation at the door of the shacks.
The sun was strong on Friday (12), when the report arrived at the favela da 10, in Barra Funda (western zone). The community is located behind an area where the Playcenter amusement park was installed for years. There, environmental racism has its most faithful portrait, with a lack of adequate basic sanitation, floods and diseases caused by the lack of drinking water.
The site is home to around 400 families, some of them living in houses supported by sticks on the banks of the Quirino dos Santos stream, which heads towards the Tietê riverside.
“There is a lack of decent sewage, decent energy. We do not want any favors. There are workers here, people who want to pay the bills. We want improvements. We are not here because we like it”, says housewife Shirlene de Souza , 47 years.
The woman, who is black and unemployed, says that she has lived with her husband, son and granddaughter for four years in Favela da 10.
Shirlene says that it is common for people in the community to get sick after drinking contaminated water. “Children get viruses, because the water and sewage pipes, because they are close, when there is a leak, they infiltrate each other.”
The resident also pointed out that the stream, without cleaning, attracts rodents, which enter the houses. “Do you know how it feels to have a rat on top of you? Sleeping with your paws feeling?”, he asks.
Another person who lives in the midst of poor sanitation is the unemployed Israel Ribeiro de Jesus, 34. The man says he was not planning to live in an occupation, but it was the alternative after becoming unemployed at the beginning of the pandemic and not being able to pay the rent of R$700 in Heliópolis (South Zone).
According to Jesus, after losing his job as a janitor, he went to live in the Penha Brasil favela, in Vila Nova Cachoeirinha (north zone), but saw his shack torn down in May this year, during repossession at the request of the land owner . From there he reached Favela da 10.
“I’ve already been looking for a job and the companies don’t accept it because we live in a favela. They think we’re a thief,” he says.
Even just four months ago in the community located in Barra Funda, the man has also learned that he needs to look at the sky on hot days. Not to gaze at the sun, but to check the color of the clouds. “On a rainy day it’s a nuisance. People don’t sleep for fear of filling the stream.”
If Jesus’ short time in one of the wooden shacks in the favela da 10 still didn’t make him see the flood level on days of heavy rain, the also unemployed Juliana Jéssica da Silva Araújo, 32, has already witnessed the aggressiveness of the waters. She says that, in a heavy rain about three years ago, the level of the stream rose and many people lost everything they had conquered with great effort.
“You couldn’t see the street, just water. My sister lost mattress, furniture. She only recovered her goods after a donation,” he says.
Children also face a lack of space to play, which makes them stay at the edge of the stream, according to Juliana, who has two daughters aged 13 and 8 years. “The only place for children to play is on the street, and when there is no truck or car [apontando para a rua Quirino dos Santos]. I don’t let them play in the stream, because a lot of people have already gotten sick from the water.”
The reports of the residents of the favela da 10 are similar to the problems faced by those who live in the Vila dos Heróis favela, in Vila Dionísia, in the Brasilândia region (north region). With around 80 houses, some of them made of wood and others a mix of masonry, it also suffers from the lack of drinking water.
Located a few meters from the Penha Brasil eviction, the community is located almost inside a swimming pool. According to unemployed Wemerson Carlos Rios, 28, a member of the residents’ association, there are 80 children in the community, 15 of which are special.
The sewerage as the main problem in Vila dos Heróis is pointed out by recycler Monique Rocha dos Santos, 34. “The pipes were not done properly. They clog up and sewage enters the houses. In mine the pipe burst and I had to pay R$ 100 for it. to arrange.”
Environmental racism is also part of structural racism
Daniel Dourado, a public health physician and researcher at the Center for Research in Health Law at the University of São Paulo and at the Institut Droit et Santé, at the University of Paris, said that environmental racism can also be classified as an environmental injustice, as it restricts part of the population to minimum health conditions.
“Sanitation is a basic condition of life for populations. Having access to drinking water, sewage treatment and garbage collection is a living condition that has impacted and still impacts the health condition of populations”, he says.
The doctor says that environmental racism has been permeated over the years. According to him, historically these populations ended up being placed in degraded areas of cities, outside access to urbanization.
Dourado also claims that racism is a wound that is still open in the country, and that it should have been cured by now. “The problem of structural racism in Brazil is multidimensional, the population has not been incorporated into society since the end of slavery, until today it is a wound in Brazilian society that has not yet been addressed”, he says.
Sabesp, of the João Doria administration (PSDB), says that the community on Rua Rubéns Porta Nova, in Barra Funda, is an informal occupation, where the law does not allow the installation of water and sewage networks without authorization. “The company monitors the situation in the area with the city hall, holding conversations about the Legal Water Program”, he says. “The purpose of the program is to regularize water connections in areas of high social vulnerability.”
The Quirino dos Santos stream, he says, is monitored monthly, with a BOD (biochemical oxygen demand) index of 32 mg/liter. To consider it completely unpolluted, the index is 30 mg/liter.
In relation to the Vila dos Heróis community, Sabesp says that the place is also an irregular area. “The entire area around the community has water and sewage infrastructure,” says an excerpt from a note.
The City Hall of São Paulo, through the Attorney General of the Municipality and the Municipal Housing Secretariat, says that the occupation located in the west zone is a municipal public area with a process of repossession that is in progress with the 10th Court of Finance Public, with a suspended enforcement order due to the pandemic.
The secretariat states that earlier this year, the social technical team of the folder carried out an inspection and found the need to remove people due to the risk. 276 families were registered to pay the moving allowance, and the folder awaits the determination to comply with the reintegration order for removal and assistance.
As for the Vila dos Heróis area, located in the North Zone, Sehab does not claim to have no information. The Casa Verde Subprefecture states that the Guaraú swimming pool has an area of 59,058 m² and periodically receives cleaning and sand removal services.