Brazilian archbishop’s statement in the wake of the Mariana dam break

The bursting of the Fundão and Santarém dams, of the mineral company Samarco, controlled by the Vale do Rio Doce and by the Anglo-Australian company BHP, occurred on the 5th November, provoking an avalanche of mud mixed with toxic residues causing 24 deaths, and leaving over 600 people homeless, as well as the environmental damage to the whole region around the town of Mariana and the district of Bento Rodrigues. Those affected were river communities, rural workers, some working in this very mineral company, families with not much income. The tragedy reached beyond the limits of the state of Minas Gerais, hitting various towns in the state of Espirito Santo.

The mineral industry, in general, is one of the human activities that most affects life on Earth through its destructive impacts on ecosystems, and is an enormous contributor to global warming with the emission of greenhouse gases, when it does not consider strategies to reduce risks and mechanisms of sustainable development.

Equally, with its enormous potential for profit and dividends, which, added to corruption, is one of the industrial activities with the least regulation from local, regional and federal governments. These governments should interfere in order to control and forbid the excessive exploitation of the soil in the face of clear evidence of imminent catastrophe, always prioritizing the right to human and environmental protection and the rights of future generations, since the damage caused in Mariana and Bento Rodrigues will affect the next two generations.

A tragedy like this is not a mere accident, but it is the result of a succession of errors that were not contemplated with due relevance, leading to a disaster which was not caused by one factor alone. This cluster of errors is added to the total lack of government control as well as the crime of prioritizing profits over human and environmental safety.

We believe it really was a crime not to take the necessary precautions as well as not planning emergency mechanisms for a possible bursting of the dam and, in an extreme case, warning the population in advance to minimize the effects of a mud avalanche. It is not enough to compensate the families. The power of decision-making in these companies needs to be decentralized when it comes to natural resources, since they are not infinite, nor are they renewable without the necessary sustainability. However, the owners of the Samarco mineral company are not taking on responsibility for the event, which makes their criminal behaviour more emphatic as they are not offering a clear and effective mechanism of repairing the damage after the event.

Tragedies like this arouse feelings compassion and solidarity, but also of resentment, impotence, anger and pain. Anyone could be affected in the future. Therefore, it is essential to denounce this predatory model supported by the market economy that favours profits in detriment of people’s lives!

So I ask the Church to PRAY:

Ø That the necessary precautions and actions be taken both by the government and by the mineral companies in order to prevent the third dam in Germano from bursting and increasing the damage to the people there.

Ø That those affected by the dam may be compensated and that they may receive decent housing, work and infrastructure to rebuild their lives.

Ø That human ambition for wealth may cease and that profit may not be put above life, thereby avoiding other disasters caused by neglect and corruption.

Ø That those who suffered may have the right to humanitarian support and may receive food supplies, clothes and basic, quality provisions.

Ø That the water supply may be guaranteed to all the populations around the towns affected by the avalanche of mud, which is polluting the rivers and the springs.

Ø That the governments implement strategies directed at avoiding disease, epidemics and toxic contamination due to the avalanche of mud.

Ø That we may become more aware of the needs of our neighbours who, in this case, are our brothers and sisters in Mariana and the District of Bento Rodrigues in Minas Gerais, as well as several villages and towns in Espirito Santo.

Archbishop Francisco de Assis da Silva
18 Nov 2015
The Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil

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