How many dams will be necessary?

O rompimento da barragem de rejeitos da mineradora Samarco, cujos donos são a Vale a anglo-australiana BHP, causou uma enxurrada de lama que inundou várias casas no distrito de Bento Rodrigues, em Mariana, na Região Central de Minas Gerais. Inicialmente, a mineradora havia afirmado que duas barragens haviam se rompido, de Fundão e Santarém. No dia 16 de novembro, a Samarco confirmou que apenas a barragem de Fundão se rompeu.
Local: Distrito de Bento Rodrigues, Município de Mariana, Minas Gerais.

Foto: Rogério Alves/TV Senado

The recent environmental disaster in Brumadinho has again put on the radar the lack of adequate supervision in the dams built by the mining companies in Brazil. In 2001, for example, the disruption of the iron ore tailings dam at Sebastião das Águas Claras, in the district of Nova Lima (MG), only 20 km from Belo Horizonte, left marks that have not been overcome so far in fauna and flora, as in the minds of those who survived the tragedy.

In that accident, five employees of the mining company Rio Verde, now owned by Vale, died; an area of 80 hectares of Atlantic Forest was devastated; the Taquaras creek, also known as Macacos, has turned into a thick mire. However, contrary to recent events, the mud in São Sebastião das Águas Claras did not find a town or village on its path. In the forest is possible to see a section in a light brown color, which does not fit the local vegetation. Nevertheless, it is in the brook that things have changed a lot since then.

Before the accident, the small stream, one of a very low flow, was a mighty river, with fish like catfish and lambaris. Today, there is no life left but mud. In a report dated from 2015, the former Secretary of Environment of Nova Lima, Roberto Messias, said "it cannot be said that he is completely recovered. What we know is that the vegetation is increasing and small mammals are returning ", in addition to stressing that there was a need to de-water the watercourse in some places.

In the same report, carried out by the newspaper O Estado de São Paulo, it is stated that those responsible for the dam project were sentenced to eight years and eight months locked in prison, and were required to pay a fine of R$ 7,000, equivalent to about R$ 25,000 nowadays. This decision, in the first instance, was for crimes against flora and fauna terrestrial and aquatic and against unit of preservation.

The article also says that the company was required to provide community service and pay a fine in the same amount of that one issued to the engineers. However, they were unable to contact Rio Verde about the subject: Vale said that despite having bought the company, all the tragedy unfolding in São Sebastião das Águas Claras was conveniently under the responsibility of the former administration.

Leaving distant 2001 and marching 14 years into the future, Mariana was a small city in Minas Gerais that was one of those devastated by the rupture of the Fundão dam, used by the mining company Samarco. Whole villages were devastated and socio-environmental impacts were recorded not only in Minas Gerais, but also in Espírito Santo. This accident resulted in the death of 19 people, not counting the environmental disaster that arose: just one month after the accident, 11 tons of dead fish were taken from Rio Doce, one of the largest in the region. Even today, the states of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo feel the environmental impacts.

When it comes to damages reparation, 22 people and 4 companies respond in court for such episode. According to a G1 news, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) has lacked measures to prevent tragedy and deaths.

Recently, it became Brumadinho’s turn to be in the news. The city, also in Minas Gerais, suffered when a dam of the mining company Vale broke down, taking with it the dining area of the company and a motel; so far (January 28), 60 deaths were confirmed, with almost 300 people missing. Millions of reais in losses, aid even offered by other countries, in sympathy to our tragedy, to a statement at the least stupefying of Vale’s lawyer, that the company "does not see determinant reasons of its responsibility", and that for that reason the board would not stray from the company's command; he also said that there was no "negligence, recklessness, malpractice" by the company. Perhaps it was the nature’s fault not to submit itself to the wishes of a company and a board of directors.

Due to such a statement, TBS Ambiental needs to take a stand on this episode: Vale needs to be held accountable for the disaster, since it operated on the accident site; if it is a service provider’s fault, it should jointly be responsible for it. What is unstoppable and inconceivable is the unimaginable position of a company that, only a few months ago, reached the highest market value of the last 7 years, in a great part due to its end-activity, the soil exploitation.

However, we cannot conveniently close our eyes to the trajectory that led to the accident and punish only the fact itself. Vale cannot be held responsible alone, but it cannot be discharged from the damage to the hundreds of lives that have been affected by the environmental disaster, not to mention the immeasurable damage to the local fauna and flora. It is necessary to act firmly and decisively to ascertain the responsibility of the previous governments, raising the carpet to see all the dirt that has been hidden there in the last years - either in turning a blind eye on it, or in possible cases of corruption - because they should have had adequate supervision.

Nature is renewable, but not infinite - it is up to us to act incisively to ascertain the real culprits, as a serious country should do.