NEWS | Mariana Tragedy : Reconstruction of Towns Only in 2018

NEWS | Mariana Tragedy : Reconstruction of Towns Only in 2018

Léo Rodrigues reports from Agência Brasil

NEWS | Mariana Tragedy : Reconstruction of Towns Only in 2018

Image Attribute: Bento Rodrigues, Mariana, Minas Gerais /  

It has completed one year since the Fundão tailings dam collapsed in Mariana, Minas Gerais, flooding towns by a cascade of mud. But their reconstruction plan has not been put into effect. Reconstruction works are expected to begin only in 2018, with conclusions expected between 2018 and 2019.  

Regarded as the worst environmental disaster in Brazil's history, the collapse completed one year this week. In the afternoon of November 5, 2015, a Samarco tailings dam collapsed, and the tailings sludge from the mining operations flowed devastating the towns of Gesteira, Bento Rodrigues, and Paracatu. The wave of mud also destroyed native vegetation, polluted the Doce river basin, and left 19 dead.  

In order to manage the projects to repair the damages caused by the disaster, Samarco created the Renova Foundation. It is responsible for all stages of the project to reconstruct the towns, including topographical and environmental studies, urban and home project design, hiring the construction company, and project execution.

Until the new rural towns are delivered, future residents will be lodged in houses rented by Samarco in several neighborhoods in the urban area of Mariana. About 350 families lost their homes after the disaster. Álvaro Pereira, the engineer who leads the reconstruction programs at Renova Foundation, explained that the progress of the process will largely take into account input from people affected by the disaster.  

“I'd like to lead a project that let me look these people in the eyes and see that they are positive that it's exactly what they need.” For him, planning is the most important stage of the reconstruction project, although this part is not visible.

Urban planning  

The residents are going to establish details like the houses location, and who will be their neighbors. They were also responsible for choosing the land where the communities will be rebuilt. Samarco has already bought the lands. Bento Rodrigues, the largest of the three towns, is expected to be ready by March 2019.  

Two weeks ago, the Renova Foundation unveiled the first draft of the urban planning of towns in a news conference. The project was conceived after a number of meetings with small groups of residents. Three issues were discussed: what the residents used to have in Bento Rodrigues that they wanted to keep, what they used to have but no longer wanted, and what they did not use to have but wanted to have now.  

The two other towns will go through the same process. Paracatu should be delivered in February 2019. The new site was chosen in a vote cast by 103 of the 108 families. The chosen location got 67 votes. Gesteira, which was a smaller town, should be completed by mid-2018. It was home to only eight families, and had also 11 undeveloped parcel of lands, which was also included in the urban planning.  

Tcharle do Carmo Batista, a 23-year-old bricklayer, regrets that some older residents may not live long enough to see Paracatu rebuilt in 2019. But he agrees with the schedule prepared by Samarco. “As a bricklayer, I have expertise in construction projects. And I know that a good project takes the time to complete. We don't want them to pay some contractor to build a lot of standard houses in one day. In Paracatu, everyone had their own unique house and we want it to continue like that,” he said.  

Tcharle is a member of the Victims' Commission, which holds weekly meetings and participates actively in each stage of the reconstruction project. The commission was responsible for organizing the residents' vote on choosing the area. He believes he plays an important role in decision-taking. “I'm not an engineer, but I do have enough expertise to identify any problem,” he said.  

To assist the Committee in monitoring the various stages against the schedule, the State Prosecution Service of Minas Gerais (MP-MG) negotiated an agreement with Samarco in which the company agreed to hire technical assistants, who are trusted by the residents. “Samarco has its own trusted professionals, and we need assistance too. So we hired Caritas NGO, and they recruited a pool of experts to provide assistance. There are architects, lawyers, agronomists, and historians,” said Antonio Pereira Gonçalves, a 47-year-old driver. He lived in Bento Rodrigues town.  

Renova Foundation is just waiting until the assistants are hired to introduce the preliminary urban planning of each town to future residents. “It's in our best interests that they have professional support so they can make their remarks. Of course, this first draft will also be adjusted until we arrive at what people who will live there want,” Álvaro Pereira said.

Memory erased  

Despite reconstruction project and the compensation that is expected to be paid to all residents by Samarco, Tcharle regrets losing something no money can ever buy back.  

“I was looking for a picture of my childhood days around the Children's Day [celebrated on October 12 in Brazil] and there was none. I've got no photos, no records from my past any more,” he said emotionally. He remembers details of the day the disaster happened. Although he was forewarned by his brother, who works for Samarco, he had not realized the proportion such disaster would reach.  

“We were a bit upset but still cool. Suddenly a helicopter came flying low and landed on the field. That was when I understood things had gone serious because I'd never seen anything like that.”  

He told people came when they saw the helicopter, and a firefighter said they had five minutes to get to the upper side of the town, where the cemetery was.

Translated by Mayra Borges  Edited by Amanda Cieglinski / Nira Foster
(c) 2016 Empresa Brasil de Comunicação S/A - EBC / Creative Commons Atribuição 3.0 Brasil 
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