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Brazilian dam collapse was predicted, but profits came first so people died

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Issue 2639
The mudslide may have killed hundreds
The dam collapse may have killed hundreds (Pic: @psol50)

Ten bodies have been found and more than 400 people are unaccounted for after a dam operated by the mining firm Vale collapsed in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. It released a wave of red iron ore waste and raised fears of widespread contamination.

The fire chief Col Edgar Estevao said 100 people had been rescued from the sea of mud released by the dam. Firefighters said they had recovered ten bodies by Saturday afternoon.

It was a wholly foreseeable and therefore avoidable tragedy. In September 2017 the Building and Woodworkers’ International of trade unions posted an article headlined “Brazil: BWI organises Dams Workers´ Network and Warns of Risk of More Accidents”.

It spoke of how “Brazilian dam workers are giving a lead in the building of a global network because of the Samarco dam collapse in November of 2015, a tragedy that killed 19 people and has become known as Brazil’s worst environmental disaster.

“Trade union representatives from around the country met to deepen their knowledge about the construction, maintenance and operation of dams in Brazil and around the world. Health and safety practices and trade union access to work sites, members and potential members quickly emerged as priority issues.”

It went on to say, “More than 17,000 of the close to 58,000 dams around the world are located in Brazil. Shockingly, only 4 percent of those dams are regularly inspected. 79 percent don’t have clear information about their heights and 45 percent don’t have information about volumes.

“More than a third don’t even have clear information about the responsible organization or individual. 13 percent of Brazilian dams are classified as ‘at risk’ and another 12 percent are classified as ‘high risk’.”


That is why hundreds may now have died. Profits came first, people’s lives last.

Vale is a massive multinational firm, the world’s biggest producer of iron ore. In February 2018 the Financial Times reported. “Vale reported net profit of $5.51billion (£4.9 billion) in 2017 on net operating revenue of $33.97 billion (£25.7 billion), which was up 23.6 per cent compared with the year before.”

But the company did not ensure safe working conditions.

After the latest dam collapse, Vale released a list of 412 employees and contractors who were missing. The document lists 412 names of people whom it had been unable to contact and who may be victims of the mudslide. The fire brigade estimated that 300-350 people were missing.

The state governor, Romeu Zema, said on Friday he did not expect many survivors. “We know now that the chances of having survivors are minimal and that we will probably rescue bodies,” he said.

The Brazilian PSOL socialist party tweeted, “One thing is certain: this was a crime, not an accident, and the culprit has a name: Vale. It’s well past the time when the state should ensure oversight. Punish those responsible and stop the dismantling of the environment and attacks on entire populations.”

The new far right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro wants to strip away regulations on business, guaranteeing more horrors of this sort.

Thanks to Simon Hester

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