Homes washed away…cars tossed around like they were toys…people swept up in the torrent…the once verdant countryside leveled and coated in thick clay-colored sludge. The cacophony of crumbling debris and rushing water were the only warning received by the 2,000-plus people living in Brazil’s Rio Doce Valley when the dams burst. Dozens of people died and hundreds of families were left homeless.
November 5, 2015 will be remembered as a day where the blind pursuit of profit crushed people in its wake.
On that day, the two tailing-dams owned by transnational mining companies Vale and BHP Billiton burst sending a toxic cascade of sludge from mining waste down the Rio Doce. The floods wiped out the town of Mariana and left over 600 people homeless while hundreds of thousands of people in the 230 municipalities that rely on the Rio Doce for their drinking water and livelihoods are facing long-term dire impacts. Since the ruptures, more than 250,000 people have lost access to drinkable water. And the long-term environmental impacts are still relatively unknown.
This is one of Brazil’s biggest and worst catastrophes. Yet it could have been prevented. Reports show that the mining companies’ managers knew there were safety risks and dangers that the dams might burst as far back as 2013 – and they did nothing.
Grassroots International partner the Movement of People Affected by Dams (MAB) has been working with the communities of Rio Doce Valley for years and was among the first responders there after the disaster. MAB is helping organize the affected communities to ensure a just and immediate response from the government and the companies responsible.
Among the demands they are pressing for are: new homes and lands for impacted families, guarantees for just compensation, new opportunities for sustainable economic and social development, a leading role in decision-making and monitoring of recovery activities, full investigations, and rigorous security measures regarding existing dams and future works elsewhere in Brazil.
Between one and four breaches occur each year at mine tailing-dams worldwide, roughly 10 times the failure rate of water dams. According to a study by David Chambers, a geophysicist at the Montana-based Center for Science in Public Participation, and Lindsay Newland Bowker, an environmental risk manager in Maine, 226 tailings-dam accidents have occurred between 1915 and 2010. Five very serious tailing-dam failures of more than 1 million cubic meters, causing death and affecting more than 20 kilometers have occurred since that report.
Grassroots International has joined with MAB in urging Brazil’s national and state leaders to respond to this tragedy