BHP today provided an update on the status of the remediation and compensation work undertaken in Brazil following the failure of the Fundao tailings dam at Samarco on 5 November 2015.
Chief Executive Officer Andrew Mackenzie said: “Two years on from the Samarco dam failure our thoughts remain with the families and communities who lost so much. This was a terrible tragedy and our commitment to rebuild the communities and restore the environment is unchanged.
“There is a lot still to do but the Renova Foundation has made significant progress since it began operations last year. The environmental programs are proceeding well and the Minas Gerais state water regulator has found that water quality in the Rio Doce has returned to the levels seen before the dam failed.
“Resettlement and compensation programs have also made progress but this has been slower than we would have liked in some areas. We are reassured by the Renova Foundation’s commitment to complete these programs as soon as possible.
“The Foundation’s work is complex and requires input from many other parties which can affect its progress and timing. We are committed to transparency, and strong community engagement in the work of Renova, so that we achieve positive results for years to come.”
BHP is fulfilling its commitments to the communities and environment through its support for the Renova Foundation, which was founded to implement the remediation and compensation programs.
Together BHP and Vale have committed approximately US$1 billion to remediation and compensation since the dam failure. Under the terms of the agreement signed with Brazilian Federal and State governments in March 2016, the companies will make at least BRL3.6 billion (US$1.1 billion) of additional funding available to the Renova Foundation from 2018.
Community and scientific consultation
The Renova Foundation’s work is overseen by a committee formed by representatives of federal and state government and regulators, which reviews and approves the design of each program and monitors the results. There are also formal mechanisms in place to ensure community input into the recovery work. Renova has held over 1800 consultation meetings since it started operating. It has daily contact with the community through 13 staffed information centres along the river and its social dialogues teams. The Foundation’s Advisory Panel, which is made up of 17 representatives from communities, academia and civil society, consults broadly and participates in Renova Board meetings.
The programs being implemented by the Renova Foundation are informed by a range of scientific studies in addition to widespread community engagement. The Foundation has asked IUCN, a leading global scientific organisation, to form an independent technical panel to assess its work and make recommendations for improvement. This started work in October 2017 and is chaired by Yolanda Kakabadse, the International President of WWF and the former Ecuadorian Minister of Environment.
Immediately after the dam failure, Samarco provided rented houses to people who had lost their homes. The reconstruction and resettlement programs began soon after.
Renova is implementing a participatory process with residents from the three most severely affected communities. Each community collectively agreed criteria to identify potential new sites for their villages, voted to select their preferred option, and is now working with consultants and the Foundation to develop the urban plan for each site.
The land for the new Bento Rodrigues (225 families) has been purchased and Renova is awaiting the environmental and municipal planning permits it needs to begin construction. Eight of the nine plots required for the Paracatu community (120 families) have been purchased. Negotiations continue to acquire the land chosen by people in Gesteira (20 families) whose school, sports centre and square have been rebuilt. Reconstruction work in Barra Longa, another community significantly affected by the dam failure, was completed in October 2016.
Financial Assistance and Compensation
The focus during the immediate aftermath of the dam failure was to help those who had lost relatives, homes or their livelihoods. Over 8200 financial assistance cards were issued and these payments currently support approximately 20,000 people. Advanced compensation payments were also made to people who lost relatives, their homes or their vehicles.
Brazil’s largest ever compensation program is now underway, managed by over 400 people across 39 towns. This includes a process to register individuals who suffered losses and a mechanism to determine fair payment that was developed with input from a wide range of stakeholders.
Over 230,000 people (of the approximately 400,000 people affected) have used this program to settle their claims for water losses from the period when municipal supplies were interrupted. The program will also provide people with river dependent livelihoods (e.g. fisherman, sand miners and tourism operators) with compensation for moral and material damages and loss of income.
The Renova Foundation measures 80 indicators at 92 sites along the Rio Doce, making it the most extensively monitored river in Brazil. IGAM, the Minas Gerais state water regulator, has confirmed that water quality is now consistent with the conditions from before the dam failure. Preliminary surveys have confirmed fish have returned to all parts of the river.
Renova’s environmental compensation programs will help address pollution unrelated to the dam failure and provide cleaner drinking water to the cities along the Rio Doce. The Renova Foundation has begun a 10 year program to restore 5000 springs that feed the river and work on over 500 springs is underway. It has upgraded 14 water treatment plants along the Rio Doce and has programs in place to reduce reliance on the river as a water source and upgrade sanitation systems.
Major programs are underway to repair the damage caused by the dam failure and provide environmental compensation. Renova has conducted restoration works on the channels and margins of the 101 tributaries that were affected. Deforestation has had a significant impact on ecosystems within the Rio Doce. Initial replanting work has been completed on the 2184 hectares directly affected by the dam failure. Renova will reforest 40,000 hectares as a compensatory measure.