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An open letter to the International Community & Australian Parliament on the ongoing crisis in Brazil

The violence not seen: social and environmental damage, institutional fragilities and reparation duty

We, the undersigned members of Brazilian civil society, appeal to the Australian parliament to recognise the social, environmental and technological disaster caused by the collapse of BHP/Vale Samarco dam that released polluted mining tailings and destroyed townships and livelihoods in Brazil.

The disaster that occurred in Brazil on 5 November 2015 in the town of Mariana, Minas Gerais, is ongoing.

The Samarco mining company, 50% owned by Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton[1] and 50% by Brazilian Vale S.A., has been exploring iron ore in Brazil since 1977. The tailings from this exploration were stored in 3 dams, namely: Fundao, Germano and Santarem. The collapse of Fundao, which contained contaminated tailings, triggered the biggest social and environmental catastrophe ever faced by Brazilian society.

The fear of imminent dam collapse was already widespread amongst the inhabitants of the surrounding community, as shown in the 2012 doctorate thesis of the Brazilian sociologist Viana.[2]  As the fears of this community became reality, it is estimated that 62 thousand million cubic metres of polluting mining debris – the equivalent of 25 thousand Olympic sized pools – was spilled, destroying and contaminating everything in its path. [3]

This disaster transformed affected people into victims in many ways, compromising health, causing loss of life, the destruction of property and contamination of land that forms the basis of social, cultural and economic life. The damage sprawled for over 850 km, directly affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Read the rest of this entry »

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