BRASILIA – Almost a month ago, a dam busted in the state of Minas Gerais in Brazil, releasing toxic mud in the Rio Doce and devastating the surrounding areas. So far, at least 13 people are dead and several are still missing.

The Mariana Dam rupture has been considered one of the worst environmental disasters in Brazil. So far, it has completely devastated several cities and decimated the Rio Doce ecosystem with not possible recuperation in the near future; the most optimistic predictions put the recuperation process in 10 years.

In addition to the destruction of this river, the mud has already reached the ocean in the neighbouring state of Espirito Santo and is causing more problems in that area. A number of fishermen are already out of work because the mud has been killing their livelihood.

Several other ecosystems are threatened right now due to the toxicity of the mud that is constantly spreading. An example of this is the Project Tamar, a 35 years old project to help and care for turtles in Brazil.

Brazilian President, Dilma Rousseff, went to the region one week after the disaster took place. However, she only flew over the area in a helicopter and took little or no action so far.

In the midst of these events, the UN issued a report saying that the actions taken by the Brazilian government and the companies involved to contain the damage so far is insufficient.

Samarco, a joint venture mining company between Vale SA and BHP Billiton, will be sued by the Brazilian government and is likely to suffer a fine of at least US$ 5 billion.  This, however, is a small price considering the amount of destruction that the burst has caused so far.

In light of this event, it has been noted that throughout Brazil, there are at least 17 other dams who are under the risk of rupturing due to lack of maintenance. On the November 30, the reservoir of Mariana hydro electrical power plant had to be emptied due to instability, which only aggravates an already difficult situation and creates more uncertainty as to what is being done to prevent other such disasters.

Julia Baldanza, Correspondent (Latin America)