What can Brazil learn from the dam collapse in Brumadinho?


4th February 2019

Economic dependency and environmental disasters:
What can Brazil learn from the dam collapse in Brumadinho?
By Dr. Andreza A. de Souza Santos, Director of the Brazilian Studies Programme and Departmental Lecturer at the Latin American Centre, University of Oxford
On the 25th of January 2019, a dam collapsed in the municipality of Brumadinho, in the State of Minas Gerais, leaving over one hundred people dead and over two hundred disappeared.
The tragedy brought to the forefront some unavoidable questions, such as; why would anyone build a restaurant and the administration of a company below the level of a dam and on the pathway of the mud would the dam ever collapse? How is risk assessed, by whom, and by what means?
The process of obtaining environmental license for mining entrepreneurship in Brazil is time-consuming, but not only due to detailed technical assessment, but also because nobody wants to be in charge of denial or approval of such dangerous activities. Technicians working for the municipality are often under pressure because the municipality receives royalties from the mining; often this is a key source of municipal revenue. In the case of Municipalities such as Brumadinho, Ouro Preto, and Mariana, famous mining areas in the State of Minas Gerais, ca. 80% of the local GDP comes from mining. Minas Gerais alone is responsible for ca. 45% of mining royalties in Brazil. Economy dependency explains the fragility of public instruments in a context where denying …

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