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2016-08_dc

32 D+C  e-Paper  August 2016 When a dam burst in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais in 2015, the ensuing mud- slide killed 19 people and caused major devastation. Disasters of this kind result from investments in environmental safety being considered breaks on growth. To strike a healthy balance between natural resource exploration, economic develop- ment and environmental sustainability, that attitude must change. By Renata Buriti The accident near the town of Mariana in Minas Gerais was probably the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history. A dam holding millions of cubic meters of mining waste collapsed, and the flood it released tore down another one. The result was a mudslide contaminated with heavy metals. It affected over 40 municipalities, destroyed fauna and flora and polluted the Rio Doce. Ultimately, the waste was flooded into the Atlantic Ocean. According to the Brazilian Civil Police, the dam infrastructure had not been maintained properly. Disaster due to infrastruc- ture, is unfortunately nothing unusual in the mining industry, and rural areas tend to be particularly affected. Apart from the loss of lives, the disaster had other painful impacts. Over 1,600 people were dis- placed and lost their livelihoods. Moreover, many workers lost their jobs because the mining company Samarco was been paralysed by the accident. It is not clear whether it will ever operate again. Samarco is a joint of two of the three biggest mining companies in the world: Vale and BHP Billington. Giants of this sort should handle safety issues responsibly, but they failed. Vale is a multinational corporation based in Rio de Janeiro, and BHP Billington’s head-office is in Perth, Australia. Riverine communities and farmers lost their sources of income. The toxic mud killed tonnes of fish of many varieties and made entire stretches of the river unsuitable for fishing. Soil that was flooded has become worthless for agriculture. Local transport, power and water infrastructure was damaged too, and that has negative impacts on other industries, includ- ing tourism. The regional economy will thus suffer for years to come. It is impossible to assess the exact costs. The mudslide affected 600 kilometres of the river’s course. Some species that only existed in this river are probably now extinct. Experts say they cannot tell how long it will take until the local fauna recovers. State agencies have pledged to monitor the disaster impacts and the success of reconstruction measures for at least ten years. Hefty fines AspecialcommissionwasappointedbyBrazil’sNational Congress to determine whether the disaster was the result of corporate negligence or an inevitable natural catastrophe. The commission blamed the mining com- pany. After a judicial investigation, Samarco was sen- tenced to pay fines amounting to 20 billion Reais (the equivalent of about € 5.2 billion), more than was ever paid after an industrial accident in Brazil before. State authoritiesandSamarcoagreedonthecreationofafund to finance rehabilitation and compensation measures. However, many observers argue that the underly- ing problems must yet be tackled. Making a private- sector company pay for the consequences of negli- gence is important, but more needs to be done. Brazil needs more stringent regulation and supervision of the mining industry, but that is no priority for the national and state governments. Strategies to link economic development and environmental protec- tion are still missing. As the hazards mining causes do not directly affect Brazil’s urban agglomerations, where most people live, these issues are not high on the political agenda. Rural people suffer the conse- quences. If environmental costs were considered in realistic terms, however, fast economic growth would look much less attractive. Mariana is a stark example of the true costs that accrue because of unsustainable development in the short as well as the long run. Brazil’s mining sector has long been an impor- tant pillar of the national economy. It accounts for around four percent of GDP and about 20 % of exports. According to the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics, the mining industry provides about eight percent of industrial jobs in the country, not counting employment in its supply chain (for business services or the provision of machines, equipment et cetera). Need for action The national mining code dates back to the 1960s. It has not been reformed to match Brazil’s progres- sive environmental legislation. Accordingly, mining Lessons from Mariana Brazil Mariana

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