After Brazil Dam Burst, Mining Company’s Feeble Response

Near Mariana on Nov. 11
Near Mariana on Nov. 11
Thiago Amâncio

SÃO PAULO â€" When the dam at the iron ore mine in Mariana burst more than a month ago, killing at least 15 people, it was quickly described as Brazil’s worst ecological disaster ever. The 40 billion liters of toxic mud unleashed in the central state of Minas Gerais, destroyed houses, roads, and left many sensitive areas heavily polluted, as the so-called “mud tsunami” traveled more than 600 kilometers to the Atlantic Ocean.

Mining company Samarco, which controlled the dam, has taken some measures since the Nov. 5 collapse. But the response has been piecemeal, and came only after the company â€" a joint-venture owned by Vale and the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton â€" was pressured to do so by the Brazilian Justice Department, local authorities, environmental organizations and the prosecutor's office.

Samarco’s actions have been mostly aimed at limiting the impact caused by the toxic mud. The company has, for instance, distributed millions of liters of clean water and installed a containment boom in the Atlantic to prevent the mud from spreading farther into the ocean.

But the concrete actions to try and ease the damage and destruction only came after urgent calls by environmental officials in the neighboring coastal state of Espirito Santo, where the mud was flowing. Officials demanded that Samarco deploy a helicopter over affected areas, distribute water to the cities dependent on the Rio Doce river, send a team to assess the impact of the mud on the ground and check the quality of the river’s water.

More actions and measures followed, but in almost every case had to be forced upon the company. Two weeks after the dam collapsed, Samarco announced it was rescuing the fish in the Rio Doce river, with fishermen taking them and transporting them to fish farms, where they will be kept until it becomes possible to repopulate the polluted river. But looking back again, the company only did so three days after the Justice department ordered it.

Another action the mining company was pressured into taking was to aid indigenous populations whose lives depended on the Rio Doce river. Only after five days of protesting were the indigenous people given 44,000 liters of water.

In at least one instance, the company took action before any judicial decision: Samarco indeed took care of operations to widen the river’s mouth, three days before a court decision would have obliged it to do so. Later though, it is the Justice department that demanded that booms be installed in the Atlantic so as to contain the torrent of mud pouring into the ocean.

This decision however was ridiculed by Hernani Lima, professor at the Federal University of Ouro Preto, who said the attempt at containment amounted to a “joke.” The booms installed are designed to stop the spread of oil, which floats on water, whereas mud doesn’t. Samarco has not responded to Folha's request for comment on these issues.

For Maria Dalce Ricas, director of Mining Association of Environmental Defense, delays in reacting have taken a huge toll. Once the mud had reached the Rio Doce river, there was indeed very little that could avoid the damage.

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Protests against gasoline price hikes in Lebanon

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Wai!*

Welcome to Thursday, where leaked documents show how some countries are lobbying to change a key report on climate change, Moscow announces new full lockdown and the world's first robot artist is arrested over spying allegations. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt looks at the rapprochement between two leaders currently at odds with Europe: UK's BoJo and Turkey's Erdogan.

[*Bodo - India, Nepal and Bengal]


• Documents reveal countries lobbying against climate action: Leaked documents have revealed that some of the world's biggest fossil fuel and meat producing countries, including Australia, Japan and Saudi Arabia, are trying to water down a UN scientific report on climate change and pushing back on its recommendations for action, less than one month before the COP26 climate summit.

• COVID update: The city of Moscow plans to reintroduce lockdown measures next week, closing nearly all shops, bars and restaurants, after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a nationwide seven-day workplace shutdown from Oct. 30 to combat the country's record surge in coronavirus cases and deaths. Meanwhile, India has crossed the 1 billion vaccinations milestone.

• India and Nepal floods death toll passes 180: Devastating floods in Nepal and the two Indian states of Uttarakhand and Kerala have killed at least 180 people, following record-breaking rainfall.

• Barbados elects first ever president: Governor general Dame Sandra Mason has been elected as Barbados' first president as the Caribbean island prepares to become a republic after voting to remove Queen Elizabeth II as head of state.

• Trump to launch social media platform: After being banned from several social media platforms including Facebook and Twitter, former U.S. President Donald Trump announced he would launch his own app called TRUTH Social in a bid "to fight back against Big Tech." The app is scheduled for release early next year.

• Human remains found in hunt for Gabby Petito's fiance: Suspected human remains and items belonging to Brian Laundrie were found in a Florida park, more than one month after his disappearance. Laundrie was a person of interest in the murder of his fiancee Gabby Petito, who was found dead by strangulation last month.

• Artist robot detained in Egypt over spying fear: Ai-Da, the world's ultra-realistic robot artist, was detained for 10 days by authorities in Egypt where it was due to present its latest art works, over fears the robot was part of an espionage plot. Ai-Da was eventually cleared through customs, hours before the exhibition was due to start.


"Nine crimes and a tragedy," titles Brazilian daily Extra, after a report from Brazil's Senate concluded that President Jair Bolsonaro and his government had failed to act quickly to stop the deadly coronavirus pandemic, accusing them of crimes against humanity.


Erdogan and Boris Johnson: A new global power duo?

As Turkey fears the EU closing ranks over defense, Turkish President Erdogan is looking to Boris Johnson as a post-Brexit ally, especially as Angela Merkel steps aside. This could undermine the deal where Ankara limits refugee entry into Europe, and other dossiers too, write Carolina Drüten and Gregor Schwung in German daily Die Welt.

🇹🇷🇬🇧 According to the Elysée Palace, the French presidency "can't understand" why Turkey would overreact, since the defense pact that France recently signed in Paris with Greece is not aimed at Ankara. Although Paris denies this, it is difficult to see the agreement as anything other than a message, perhaps even a provocation, targeted at Turkey. The country has long felt left out in the cold, at odds with the European Union over a number of issues. Yet now President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is setting his sights on another country, which also wants to become more independent from Europe: the UK.

⚠️ Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel always argued for closer collaboration with Turkey. She never supported French President Emmanuel Macron's ideas about greater strategic autonomy for countries within the EU. But now that she's leaving office, Macron is keen to make the most of the power vacuum Merkel will leave behind. The prospect of France's growing influence is "not especially good news for Turkey," says Ian Lesser, vice president of the think tank German Marshall Fund.

🤝 At the UN summit in September, Erdogan had a meeting with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the recently opened Turkish House in New York. Kalin says it was a "very good meeting" and that the two countries are "closely allied strategic partners." He says they plan to work together more closely on trade, but with a particular focus on defense. The groundwork for collaboration was already in place. Britain consistently supported Turkey's ambition to join the EU, and gave an ultimate proof of friendship after the failed coup in 2016.

➡️


"He has fought tirelessly against the corruption of Vladimir Putin's regime. This cost him his liberty and nearly his life."

— David Sassoli, president of the European Parliament, wrote on Twitter, following the announcement that imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was awarded the 2021 Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, the European Union's highest tribute to human rights defenders. Navalny, who survived a poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin, is praised for his "immense personal bravery" in fighting Putin's regime. The European Parliament called for his immediate release from jail, as Russian authorities opened a new criminal case against the activist that could see him stay in jail for another decade.



Chinese video platform Youku is under fire after announcing it is launching a new variety show called in Mandarin Squid's Victory (Yóuyú de shènglì) on social media, through a poster that also bears striking similarities with the visual identity of Netflix's current South Korean hit series Squid Game. Youku apologized by saying it was just a "draft" poster.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Anyone want to guess Trump's first post on his upcoming social media platform...? Let us know how the news look in your corner of the world — drop us a note at!

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