Brumadinho: recommendations to public power and Vale
Three days after the collapse of the Córrego de Feijão Dam, in Brumadinho (Minas Gerais), a delegation from Conectas was on site to provide support, offer solidarity to victims’ families and to closely monitor the emergency actions and assistance of Vale and public authorities to the people affected. See below the video including a report of the mission and recommendations to government bodies, the legal system and to Vale:
Report and Recommendations
Mission to Brumadinho, Minas Gerais
From 28 to 31 January 2019, a delegation from Conectas was in loco verifying emergency actions following the collapse of the Córrego do Feijão mining dam, owned by Vale, in the municipality of Brumadinho, Minas Gerais.
The team went to Belo Horizonte and Brumadinho and visited: the control centre set up for operations to retrieve the dead (Faculdade ASA in Brumadinho); the main centre for assisting victims, at the Vale Estação de Conhecimento and the Córrego de Feijão and Parque da Cachoeira communities. Conectas also met with the Task Force and Public Prosecutors and Public Defenders and participated in a public hearing with the National Council for Human Rights (CNDH), in the Córrego de Feijão community. The team collected statements from community representatives at the assistance centres for people affected and inspected areas destroyed by the mud containing waste material, close to the River Paraopeba.
The principal objective of the mission was to identify possible rights violations in the initial phase following the disaster. Based on monitoring of the violations caused by the Rio Doce disaster carried out by Conectas, it is known that the immediate emergency measures adopted by public authorities and the company responsible are crucial in minimising the possibility of environmental damage and rights violations, being worse or becoming irreversible, given that many negative effects can become permanent. This initial phase is also critical in gathering proof that will inform procedures when holding those responsible accountable at civil, penal and administrative levels.
Based on information collected and analysis of documents seen, Conectas ascertained a number of demands from the communities. These are outlined below and refer to human rights that must be guaranteed for those affected:
The right to information on the search and identification: People affected reported difficulty in obtaining information on the search for missing people and on the identification of bodies that had been found. In the first instance, lists with the number and identity of the dead and missing people were provided to the press by Vale, and not directly to family members. In addition, people said the lists were only updated once a day. The delay in obtaining information caused an acute state of anguish and trepidation on the part of the families of the dead and missing people. Finally, many of the people affected reported that Vale was adopting discriminatory practices in their treatment of families of dead and missing people who were not employed by the company. People related that information on the location and identity of Vale workers was provided much quicker and more accurately than in the case of other people. Recommendation: Vale and public authorities must act efficiently in searches and in identifying dead and missing people, providing information without discrimination to all the families and updating lists more frequently.
The right to water, right to access to information on toxicity in waste materials: Individuals and families affected by the disaster are not sure whether they should go back to their everyday lives, as there is no information on toxicity levels in the areas where they live and work. The state of Minas Gerais issued a warning about contamination of the River Paraopeba. People were warned to refrain from using the water from the river for any purpose, including hydration and irrigation of cattle. Experience from the River Doce disaster shows that land and water remain toxic even after the mud has been removed. Therefore, the community is legitimately concerned about which areas are safe to plant, fish, collect water, bathe and live in normally. Recommendation: Until reliable reports are produced, testifying to the quality of drinking water, Vale should provide water that is suitable for human and animal consumption and for domestic use, in sufficient quantities to cover the needs of all the communities affected. Conclusive, independent studies are also needed regarding the toxicity of the waste and its possible effects on human health.
The right to health: Contact with potentially toxic waste and the consumption of water that is unfit has a direct impact on the physical health of the people affected by the disaster. In addition, the people affected are living with uncertainty over the toxicity of the mud, the quality of the water and the identity of bodies being recovered, as well as the risk of collapse of Dam IV of the Córrego do Feijão mine, all of which is directly impacting on their mental health. Recommendation: Vale should provide expert medical assistance to the communities affected with a view to identifying and treating the consequences of contact with the waste on their physical health. Psychological and social support should also be made available to those affected. This service, although costly for Vale, should be provided with guarantees concerning independence from supervision by the company and with suitable protection of individuals’ privacy, ensuring that all users feel safe and do not fear any conflict of interest. Finally, Vale’s actions do not exempt public power at the federal, state and municipal levels from developing specific public policies for the protection and promotion of the physical and mental health of those affected by the disaster.
The right to food: The toxic mud has impeded people’s access to food supplies, as well as to kitchens and other places for food preparation. Many people also lost their livelihoods, as the mud contaminated the earth and the river. Immediately after the disaster, Vale provided the population with lunches and dinners. However, adequate nutrition also requires at least the provision of breakfast. The population also requested the provision of a community kitchen so those affected do not have to depend indefinitely on pre-packed food. Recommendation: Vale should provide balanced meals, in sufficient quantities to meet the needs of all the people affected. As requested by those affected, the company should also set up community areas for the preparation and consumption of meals. In the medium term, the company should reinstate means of subsistence for the people affected, so they can go back to their daily lives.
The right to work and to a dignified income: Many of those affected were small rural producers whose plantations were destroyed by the contaminated mud. Others were employees at commercial establishments that were also destroyed and, therefore, they have been left with no income following the collapse of the dam. Vale is currently only offering financial help to those who were left homeless, either because the houses they lived in were destroyed or because their homes are in risk areas. There are, therefore, many people who cannot cover their daily living costs, having lost their source of income. Recommendation: All those whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted by the disaster should receive compensation. This includes not only agriculturalists and people directly employed by Vale, but also people who were indirectly affected by the suspension of mining activities and contamination of the area. As well as compensation, there should be emergency assistance for those who were more severely affected.
Reinstatement of electricity, water and sanitation services: The mud destroyed the infrastructure that provided access to basic public services like electricity, water and sanitation. There is an urgent need to restore damaged equipment, including within homes and on farms. Recommendation: Vale and public power must act with the utmost urgency to fully restore all essential public services, ensuring access to electricity, water and sanitation by the communities affected.
Security and the right to property: The forced displacement of people has meant their homes have been left unattended. There have been reports of burglary. Vulnerable individuals are also susceptible to muggings and other types of violence. The community is calling for the government to establish a police station in the area and to adopt general measures of public security. Recommendation: State authorities should guarantee policing in affected areas and develop public security policies aimed at preventing theft and burglary.
The right to meaningful consultation and participation: None of the people affected are working in the organs that are monitoring and developing emergency measures, such as the Ministerial Supervisory Committee on Disaster Response, created by the federal government by means of statute no. 9.691/2019 with the aim of monitoring activities developed in response to disasters. Until now, decisions regarding the defence of the rights of the people affected have not been taken based on an efficient process of informed participation. Recommendation: Vale and public authorities should ensure the participation of affected communities in all decision making processes regarding emergency measures, compensation and recuperation. Participation should be through representatives, as long as they are legitimately chosen by the community and report back to those affected. All decisions that influence the sphere of the rights of the people affected should involve their full and informed participation. The company and public power should also engage in wide-ranging dialogue with civil society organisations and social movements.
The right to suitable housing: 135 people were made homeless, either because the houses they were living in were destroyed or because their homes are in high risk areas. Currently people who have been made homeless are sent to hotels and houses rented by Vale, which are shared with other people affected by the disaster. These are, then, temporary shelters and not based on people’s free choice. Recommendation: Vale should offer people affected by the disaster choices of emergency shelter and long term housing that are in line with international standards on the right to suitable housing. People affected should be at the centre of decision making on housing and should have the power to decide where they will live.
The right to come and go: Waste material has obstructed roads that used to connect the Córrego do Feijão community to the centre of Brumadinho. This trip would usually only take about 20 minutes before the collapse. Now it takes members of the community almost two hours by car to get to the centre of the town to work or to access basic services, like supermarkets and hospitals, as well as to get to the main assistance centre. Members of the community are asking for Vale to authorise access to a private road that crosses the mines. This would reduce the trip to only 15 minutes. Vale is refusing to do so, on the basis that free access is unsafe. This is not a reason to totally prevent access. Vale could provide cars to escort drivers along the road or they could provide a bus. Recommendation: Vale and public power should ensure the right of the people affected to come and go freely. As an emergency measure they should allow people affected by the obstructed road to cross Vale property. Later, access roads destroyed by the waste material should be rebuilt. Communities should have access to information on the expected period for waste material to be removed and should be involved in taking decisions on priorities, timeframes and removal methods. The company should adopt all the necessary precautions so that movement of heavy machinery does not destabilise the structure of buildings located in affected areas. They should dump waste that is removed in a suitable, remote location.