By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL- On the eve of the one-year anniversary of one of the greatest environmental disasters in Brazil’s history, the United Nations’ OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights) urges the Brazilian government and the companies involved in the Mariana dam collapse to address the human rights impacts of the disaster.
“A year on, many of the six million people affected continue to suffer. We believe their human rights are not being addressed in areas including impacts on indigenous and traditional communities, health problems in riverside settlements, the risk of further contamination of waterways which have not yet recovered from the initial disaster, the slow pace of resettlement and legal redress for all displaced persons, and reports that human rights defenders are facing legal action,” said the press release by the OHCHR on Friday.
According to the UN agency, the measures currently employed to try to contain the toxic mud and repair the environmental and socio-economic damages caused by the accident have been so far insufficient. “A disaster on this scale requires a response on a similar scale,” said the agency.
Pressured by domestic and foreign environmental groups, Brazilian President Michel Temer met with representatives from Samarco, Vale and BHP on Thursday (November 3rd) afternoon to discuss the progress made to restore the area as well as what steps are being taken to prevent further scattering of mud and waste. Local news outlets report that toxic mud continues to flow into the countryside through smaller rivers and streams from Mariana, Minas Gerais, through the state of Espirito Santo, all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
The dam break in the Bento Rodrigues district caused chemicals to flow over 600 kilometers along the Rio Doce and its tributaries. Brazil’s federal prosecutors have filed homicide charges against 21 persons for the Mariana tragedy, which killed 19 people and affected the livelihood of hundreds of thousands who live or lived along the riverbed.
Environmentalists, however, worry that with the rainy season about to begin in that part of the country, the situation in the area may worsen. Last week, Brazil’s Environment and Renewable Natural Resources Institute (Ibama) reported that emergency works to contain the mud in the region during the summer months are lagging behind.
Those responsible for the cleanup and emergency work, however, say everything is on schedule. “Over ninety percent of the programs have begun and the activity on the ground is extensive. More than 3000 people have been mobilized to rebuild infrastructure, provide community and social services and prepare for the wet season.” said Andrew Mackenzie CEO for Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton, which along with Brazil’s mining giant Vale, are Samarco’s parent companies. “One year on, our commitment to do the right thing for the people and the environment is unwavering.”
In March Samarco, Vale and BHP Billiton signed an agreement the federal government to invest R$20 billion in the region during the next fifteen years to restore the area. In May, the federal prosecutors office (MPF), however, filed a civil suit against the three companies for R$155 billion for the damages.