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Green Or Gone

After Brazil Dam Burst, Mining Company's Feeble Response

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

SÃO PAULO — 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 — a joint-venture owned by Vale and the Anglo-Australian BHP Billiton — 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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FOCUS: Israel-Palestine War

Palestinian Olive Trees Are Also Under Israeli Occupation — And That's Not A Joke

In the West Bank, a quieter form of oppression has been plaguing Palestinians for a long time. Their olive groves are surrounded by soldiers, and it's forbidden to harvest the olives – this economic and social violence has gotten far worse since Oct. 7.

A Palestinian woman holds olives in her hands

In a file photo, Um Ahmed, 74, collects olives in the village of Sarra on the southwest of the West Bank city of Nablus.

Mohammed Turabi/ZUMA
Francesca Mannocchi

HEBRON – It was after Friday prayers on October 13th of last year, and Zakaria al-Arda was walking along the road that crosses his property's hillside to return home – but he never made it.

A settler from Havat Ma'on — an outpost bordering Al-Tuwani that the United Nations International Law and Israeli law considers illegal — descended from the hill with his rifle in hand.

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After kicking al-Arda, who tried to defend himself, the settler shot him in the abdomen. The bullet pierced through his stomach, a few centimeters below the lungs. Since then, al-Arda has been in the hospital in intensive care. A video of those moments clearly shows that neither al-Arda nor the other worshippers leaving the mosque were carrying any weapons.

The victim's cousin, Hafez Hureini, still lives in the town of Al-Tuwani. He is a farmer, and their house on the slope of the town is surrounded by olive trees — and Israeli soldiers. On the pine tree at the edge of his property, settlers have planted an Israeli flag. Today, Hafez lives, like everyone else, as an occupied individual.

He cannot work in his greenhouse, cannot sow his fields, and cannot harvest the olives from his precious olive trees.

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