Hermione Blomfield-Smith reports on the unknown disaster happening in Brazil.
As you read this, I wonder if you’ll have heard of the dam that burst at an iron ore mine in Brazil? If you are not a regular follower of the news then you probably haven’t. But why is that? It was definitely worthy of making headlines and has been dubbed ‘the worst mining accident in Brazil’s history’ by Ibama, the Brazilian environmental agency.
On the 5th November 2015, at 4:20pm, the Samarco-owned Fundao dam collapsed at an open pit iron ore mine releasing 60 Million cubic meters of iron waste into the Doce River. The mining company, Samarco, founded in 1977, is a BHP Billiton (an Anglo-Australian mining company) and Vale partnership and original claims from Samarco stated that this waste was not toxic to humans, but subsequently the UN contradicted these claims when Ibama carried out a further investigation that resulted in the mud-contaminated water being banned for human consumption as it contained high levels of heavy metals and toxic chemicals including arsenic, lead and mercury.
The collapse itself caused complete flooding of Bento Rodrigues, which sits in the river valley of the Doce. The flooding made Bento Rodrigues inaccessible to rescuers, displaced more than 500 people and cut off drinking water for an estimated 250,000 people, and the city of Governador Valadares had to stop water intake from the river due to the toxic mud leading to huge water shortage.
However, it is not just the local people that are suffering. The mud has already caused immense damage to plant and animal life along the river and now in the Atlantic, with the expectation that the mud will spread along 9km of the coastline to threaten the Comboios nature reserve which is one of the only nesting sites of the endangered Leatherback turtle. This event was not just a human disaster, but an environmental one and workers have been seen walking the coast line collecting hundreds upon hundreds of dead fish washed up onto the beaches. This kind of devastation to the fragile ecosystem of the river and coast can devastate not just species populations, but create food shortages for the local people.
Sounds like big news right? But the West has heard little of this disaster until fairly recently. Why?
On the 13th November 2015 the Paris attacks happened. Heard of that? Of course you have. The Paris bombings instantly became nationwide news headlines here in the UK and across the Western world for weeks following the disaster. A terrible tragedy which happened so close to home. Now I don’t dispute that what happened in Paris was a horrific event, but what I do dispute, is why this should completely overshadow what was happening in Brazil? Yes, it was closer to home and arguably affects us in the West more than what is going on across the world, but I still feel that one disaster should never overshadow another.
A recent article by Nadja Kaukianinen, ‘What’s happening on the other side of the world and why you should care’, hit home with me and the delusion of how things far away from us have little to no impact – and how this is wrong. As members of the human species we should care and be moved, regardless of where in the world the tragedy occurs. Why is it that an Anglo-Australian company can get away with causing widespread suffering, just because they are working in a poor country? No one person’s life is more or less valuable than another’s.
I am not trying to compare the gravity of either of these examples; you can never depict one tragedy as ‘worse’ than another and news of the dam collapse was broadcasted on many channels worldwide. However, as we are becoming more and more international, I feel that events of this scale should be documented across the globe in a way that provides fair justice and honour to the victims.
So often disastrous events occur that are not fully explained and understood by the public, it’s important that global, natural and domestic disasters be documented to prevent history repeating itself. As we have learned from past events, the key to success is knowledge.