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Climate and Environment

Santiago Saez Moreno
Journalist
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piqer: Santiago Saez Moreno
Thursday, 08 November 2018

Three Years After Brazil's Worst Environmental Disaster, Communities Still Suffer

On the afternoon of 5 November 2015, the Fundao tailing dam collapsed, unleashing a red tide of 14 million cubic meters of mud over the town of Mariana, in the state of Minas Gerais, Brazil. 19 people lost their lives, and there were other staggering damages to infrastructures, the economy, the wildlife and the water. The iron waste polluted the Doce River, leaving it lifeless and even reaching the ocean. Australian–British company BHP Billiton and Brazilian Valle, the owners of the manganese mine whose toxic waste spilled from the dam, allegedly knew the risk and didn't work to prevent it.

What is going on in Mariana three years after the worst environmental disaster in Brazil's history? This short podcast (13 minutes), presented by Lucy Lamble and hosted by The Guardian, explores the consequences for the local community, with a centerpiece interview with local activist Leticia Olivera, a member of the Movement of People Affected by Dams.

The health consequences still remain. Often, these have more to do with mental wellbeing. Depression prevails in the area, and many times people end up committing suicide, according to the activist. People feel empty, aimless. Their environment has been devastated.

I found this particularly interesting, as I know mining communities quite well. There was a similar disaster in my home region in 1998, and while it, fortunately, didn't kill anyone, its consequences are still deeply felt in the area. Mining communities are usually heavily dependent on that activity, but also tied to the mines culturally and psychologically. The fact that Leticia is open to talking about the need for a change in the economic model without attacking the mining activity itself shows responsibility. She doesn't come across as your run-of-the-mill environmentalist. She's a local and knows what she's talking about.

Three Years After Brazil's Worst Environmental Disaster, Communities Still Suffer
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