Today is the three-year anniversary of the Mariana disaster. After an iron ore tailings dam collapsed in the municipality of Mariana, some 65 kilometers from Belo Horizonte, the equivalent of 25,000 Olympic swimming pools of toxic sludge was spilled, destroying entire towns and resulting in 19 deaths. It also devastated the Rio Doce. Thousands of animals were killed and experts at the time reckoned that it would take decades to reverse the catastrophic damage caused.
A tragedy of this magnitude doesn’t happen overnight. It was the result of a series of mistakes, neglect and a lack of respect. Samarco, the mining company which owned the dam, is not alone in shouldering the blame. Brazilian public institutions also failed to reinforce the already-loose legislation concerning environmental risks.
Today, The Brazilian Report is re-publishing a series of reports discussing the causes of the disaster, its repercussions, and how it could have been avoided. Some of the material was originally published in Portuguese by Brio, and was translated into English for the first time by the now-defunct plus55.
Since the publication of these articles, Samarco was fined BRL 20 billion for its role in the tragedy, and homicide charges were brought against 21 executives of mining behemoths Vale and BHP Billiton, the joint owners of Samarco. The case is still awaiting trial.
An internal investigation by the Minas Gerais state government into the culpability of government officials has also not been completed. There are indications that when the operating license of the dam was renewed in 2013, several of Samarco’s requirements were left unfulfilled. There is as of yet no estimation as to when this investigation will be concluded.