Fifty-eight people died before the community of Bento Rodrigues, in Mariana (MG), was completely rebuilt. Work in the district, destroyed on November 5, 2015 after the collapse of the Samarco mining dam, is still ongoing. But 53 properties – including houses, businesses, farms and lots – have already been handed over to those affected.
“These are people who died without reparation. I’m not saying that everyone died because there was no reparation. There are people who died because they were already old, there are people who had illnesses. But many people died sad”, says Rodrigo Vieira, coordinator of projects by Cáritas, an entity that those affected in the city of Mariana elected to provide technical assistance.
According to the Cáritas survey, considering other affected communities in the municipality besides Bento Rodrigues, there are a total of 118 people who died without having been repaired. The numbers do not include the 19 people affected whose lives were directly taken by the tragedy, exactly eight years ago.
“Of these 58 people from Bento Rodrigues who passed away, one was my brother, three years ago. I lost cousins, I lost uncles, I lost friends. The question that remains is: when are you going to give me my life back?” asked Mônica dos Santos during the Annual General Meeting of BHP Billiton shareholders. The Anglo-Australian mining company and the Brazilian Vale are the two partners responsible for Samarco.
The BHP Billiton meeting was held last Wednesday (1st) in Adelaide, Australia. With powers of attorney provided by shareholders, those affected by the tragedy obtained the right to participate and gave accounts of their personal and collective losses. They maintained that BHP Billiton does not disclose to the market information consistent with the state of recovery of the Rio Doce Basin ecosystem. They also stated that the mining company failed to offer fair and full compensation.
A member of the commission for those affected in the city of Mariana, Mônica dos Santos planned to protest by handing BHP Billiton executives a bottle of mud and a poster with a photo of the 19 people killed directly as a result of the dam collapse. She, however, did not obtain permission to approach the company’s directors. BHP Billiton informed that it will not take a position on the participation of those affected in the meeting, but stated that it is willing to collectively seek solutions that guarantee full reparation.
The mud that flowed after the collapse of the Samarco mining dam caused damage not only in Mariana (MG), but also in dozens of municipalities in Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo located along the Rio Doce Basin. To repair the damage, a transaction and conduct adjustment agreement (TTAC) was agreed upon by the federal government, the governments of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo, Samarco and its shareholders Vale and BHP Billiton.
Based on this agreement, it was created by the Renova Foundation, the entity responsible for managing 40 repair programs, which must be funded with resources from the three mining companies. These programs include compensation and community reconstruction and resettlement. After eight years, the reparation process is highly contested and the parties have been developing negotiations for a new agreement since last year, but there has still been no consensus between the parties.
Unhappy with the situation in Brazil, those affected began to mobilize to demand reparations abroad. With headquarters in Australia and England, BHP Billiton became the target of a lawsuit filed in the English courts in 2018, in which compensation for material and moral damages is sought. Around 700,000 people affected, in addition to city halls, companies and religious institutions, are represented by the Pogust Goodhead office. The hearings that will assess responsibility for the tragedy are scheduled for October 2024.
According to a report released this week by the Pogust Goodhead office, the value of the case is estimated at 66 billion pounds, which is equivalent to approximately R$230 billion. Lawyers also ask for interest calculated at 12% per year to be set from the date of the tragedy. In case of a favorable decision, the division of resources must be given considering the percentage participation in the total estimated damages: 66% for individuals, 23% for municipalities, 10% for companies. The remaining 1% concerns religious institutions, which allege property losses and damage to ties with devastated communities.
The action lists property and income losses, increased expenses, psychological impacts, impacts resulting from displacement, lack of access to water and electricity, among other damages. In the case of indigenous people and quilombolas, the effects on cultural practices and impacts arising from the relationship with the environment are also mentioned.
For the Krenak people, who live in a reserve in the municipality of Resplendor (MG), the Doce River is sacred and called Uatu. The report released by the Pogust Goodhead office describes spiritual, cultural and psychological shocks. “Many have suffered great anguish, some have lost the will to live and have passed away. They can no longer swim, bathe, fish in the river or drink its water, and many of the plants they harvested and the animals they hunted have diminished. The damage done to their culture and traditional heritage are unimaginable in Western culture”, records the text.
BHP Billiton, in turn, has fully refuted the requests presented by those affected. “It is unnecessary to duplicate issues already covered by the ongoing work of the Renova Foundation, under the supervision of Brazilian courts, and the subject of ongoing legal proceedings in Brazil”, maintained the mining company just over a month ago. She also claims that there have been significant advances in the payment of individual compensation in Brazil, in favor of more than 400 thousand people, and that around 200 thousand plaintiffs in the process she is processing in the United Kingdom have already received amounts in Brazil.
In Mariana, in addition to destroying farms, farms and houses in rural areas, the collapse of the mining company Samarco’s dam devastated the communities of Bento Rodrigues and Paracatu. The reconstruction works in the two districts had their schedule changed several times. In April of the year, the Renova Foundation handed over the keys to the first families of Bento Rodrigues.
According to data from the Renova Foundation updated until September 29, 168 of the 248 buildings planned in the community have completed construction. In Paracatu, 66 of the 93 properties have already been completed, 19 of which have already been delivered.
The Renova Foundation claims that the resettlement process’ main premise is the active participation of those affected. In a note, she states that an unprecedented model of participatory governance was implemented. “For the resumption of the way of life, all the details of the district were thought out together with the residents to meet their needs, support the resumption of productive activities and preserve their habits, their neighborhood relationships and cultural and religious traditions.”
According to Cáritas, some houses in Bento Rodrigues were received with damage. “There’s a problem with the wall or the foundation. There’s a problem with fissures or cracks. Or, where the drain is located, the water doesn’t drain. There’s a window leak, there’s a series of problems. What happens is that the The contractor wants to make money. He doesn’t hire a good bricklayer. Renova even pays a good price, the materials are actually good. But the house is poorly built. And among the people of Bento Rodrigues there are bricklayers. They see the flaws in the house”, says Rodrigo Vieira.
The Renova Foundation points out that the keys to the properties are only handed over after the resident has been inspected, which can be monitored by Cáritas. According to the entity, architectural projects are approved by each family and take into account individual expectations and needs. “The work only begins after the final approval of the design by the future residents, who can follow all the stages. The correction of small defects, common in large-scale works, will be carried out”, he adds.
Cáritas also released a statement arguing that the Renova Foundation did not fully respect the communities’ way of life. “The affected people, for the most part, planted and harvested their own food, without the use of pesticides, raised animals for consumption, fished in rivers, collected firewood, medicinal plants and wood in the forests and, frequently, exchanged food among the neighborhood, family and friends”, says the entity. It points out that, in the new districts, there is a loss of sovereignty and water and food security, since those affected will need to bear the high cost of food, whose origin and quality are doubtful and unknown. Cáritas also notes that access to raw water was not guaranteed. “Accustomed to abundant water and an intrinsic relationship with the Doce River and its tributaries, families used raw water from streams, lakes and springs. Now, without the correct and complete management of waste, the use of the water resource is unfeasible, essential for economic-productive recovery and guaranteeing the right to housing”, adds the entity.
Retired Manuel Marcos Muniz, known as Marquinho, regrets that the plans of those affected in Bento Rodrigues did not come to fruition. “In the beginning, we thought about living in a community. Today, with all this delay by the Renova Foundation, this community has been dividing. Due to fatigue, some people have accepted to receive compensation in cash or to be resettled in another location. That work we did it went down the drain. Many people no longer return to Bento Rodrigues. Collective resettlement has decreased a lot.”
* Article updated at 3:43 pm to include Renova’s position on damage to properties.