Quilombolas and riparians have developed common strategies to deal with the consequences of mining in northern Pará. Pollution of waterways and the risk of failure of the 26 existing dams are among the main concerns.

Riparians of the Boa Nova Community, Oriximiná, Pará, Brazil (Photo: Carlos Penteado/CPI-SP)

Gathered on October 23 and 24, quilombolas (communities of afro-descendant people whose ancestors fled slavery) and riparians leaders from the municipality of Oriximiná (Pará) discussed articulated strategies to demand from the mining company Mineração Rio do Norte (MRN) and the government measures to mitigate the impacts of 40 years of bauxite mining in the region. The meeting was organized by the Comissão Pró-Índio de São Paulo. “Our expectation is that the meeting will contribute to the strengthening of this partnership that began in 2016”, explains Lúcia Andrade, executive coordinator of the NGO.

Maria de Fátima Viana Lopes, leader of the Boa Nova community, one of the riparians locations below the MRN dams, points out the importance of the quilombola and riparian alliance. “Together we had the strength to claim our rights”. Fatima highlights the results: “without this alliance, our community would not have made any advances in preventing the breaking of the mining dam. This partnership has helped Mineração Rio do Norte to be more responsible towards our people; not fully resolving but mitigating the situation (…) we hope this alliance will remain and bring new achievements to our community”, adds the coordinator.

At the meeting the participants decided to propose to Mineração Rio do Norte the creation of a roundtable dialogue with the participation of the affected communities, their advisors and the company. The proposal was presented to the mining company through a letter signed by the participants.

Residents of the Saracá riverine community (Photo: Carlos Penteado / CPI-SP)

Expansion of the ore extraction area

In addition to the problems arising from the extraction already underway, riparians and quilombolas worry about the social and environmental impacts that will come from the exploration of new forest areas in the Aramã (already licensed) and Novas Minas (under licensing) plateaus.

The mining company’s work on the Aramã plateau surprised residents of the São Francisco, São Tomé, São Sebastião and Espírito Santo riverine communities. The operating license was granted to MRN by Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Natural Resources (Ibama) in December 2018. The riparians were not informed or consulted although extraction is foreseen in an area traditionally used by the communities. “We didn’t know anything”, reported Jesi Ferreira, vice coordinator of the São Francisco community. The communities already account for losses: “the first impact was losing the freedom to walk our territory”. Moreover “the water is dirty, and we cannot hunt anymore”.

The extraction of bauxite on the New Minas project plateaus, scheduled to start in 2025, will take place within territory declared as quilombola in 2018 by National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform (Incra). Environmental impact studies are still being prepared by Mineração Rio do Norte as part of the process for obtaining an environmental license.

Mining dam next to Quilombo Boa Vista (Photo: Carlos Penteado / CPI-SP)

Dams are still a concern

The existence of 26 mining dams and the projects of Mineração Rio do Norte to further expand the number of dams are of great concern to quilombolas and riparians. The company has already asked Ibama to authorize the construction of a new tailings structure, the SP 25. “It is really worrying. I believe that in our situation maybe no one will die if a rupture happens. I mean immediate death, but surviving in this place will be impossible”, says Maria de Fátima Viana Lopes, coordinator of the Boa Nova community that is downstream of the set of dams. José Domingos, member of the board of the Associação Comunitária dos Produtores Rurais do Médio Lago Sapucuá adds that “no compensation will be worth our water, our precious liquid. If we move, we’ll live in a building and get stuck. Here I live free. And if the water gets polluted, it will not only be in my community. It will be for everyone”.

Mineração Rio do Norte recently informed the Comissão Pró-Índio de São Paulo that it will review current emergency action plans and prepare new contingency and recovery plans by August 2020. The weaknesses of the current plans was highlighted by the NGO in a book published at the end of last year. “We have already pointed out the importance of MRN ensuring space for the participation of quilombolas and riparians in the process of elaboration of the studies” ponders Lúcia Andrade, of the Comissão Pró-Índio. “The plans formalize the company’s commitments in case of failure of its dams so it is essential that they be defined in dialogue with the population in the risk zone”, she adds.

Meanwhile, the mining company is taking the first steps in preparing communities for eventual failures in their dams. In the first half of 2019, Mineração Rio do Norte began the implementation of emergency measures in the Quilombo Boa Vista, which is located 400 meters from one of the dams. Signs were installed to indicate the escape routes and a simulation was executed in the community. However, the community’s concern remains. “It’s not that 100% achievement yet, but we have some progress”, said Amarildo dos Santos, coordinator of the Boa Vista Quilombola Community Association. “We did the training, but we see many flaws still in the process. For example, if the dam breaks, we are supposed to run to the highest point, but the highest point would be the field, and there is no structure to accommodate people there. If they destroy the houses below the dam, where would these people go? These are things that need to be improved”, worries Amarildo.

In the coming months, the company will continue its actions in Boa Vista and begin training in riverine communities of Boa Nova and Saracá.

To learn more:

Local population denounces the impacts of mining in the Brazilian Amazon

Mining threatens local communities, forests and waterways

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