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The environmental tragedies befalling Bolsonaro

Less than a year into his term as President, Jair Bolsonaro faces another environmental crisis in the shape of an oil spill extending across nine states in northeast Brazil.


Osvaldo Cardosa


The spill poses a danger to flora and wildlife, just as it could contaminate water sources for consumption by animals and humans, and for use in farming. At this time, the black tide has caused the death of dozens of turtles, dolphins and crustaceans.

The first environmental disaster Bolsonaro dealt with was the collapse of a dam holding back mining waste at a mine operated by the company Vale in Brumadinho in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais. The collapse released a torrent of mud and waste (more than 12 million metres cubed of it) that devastated everything in its path and caused 241 deaths, 21 disappeared and affected thousands more through toxic waste contamination.

Ten months after this atrocity, inhabitants in 48 communities resident on the banks of tributaries in the area are still waiting for diagnosis and the results of toxicology reports.

According to a survey carried out by the Fundación Oswaldo Cruz (Fiocruz), close to 1.3 million people who live beside the Paraopeba river could be poisoned with heavy metals.

A second environmental catastrophe erupted in August when forest fires broke out in the Amazon and rang alarm bells around the world.

Figures from the governmental National Institute for Space Investigation reveal that in 2019, in a country as large as Brazil, 52.5% of outbreaks had their starting point in the Amazon.

In addition, according to results shared by Fiocruz, 5,091 children were hospitalised between May and June in the Brazilian Amazon for respiratory problems caused by forest fires.

For this type of complaint, the risk of being hospitalised in these two months rose by 36% for under-tens living in the cities most exposed to the effects of forest fires.

Rondonia, Pará, Maranhao and Mato Grosso were the regions where the majority of cases were recorded.

As regards the oil slick off the north-east coastline, which appeared on the 2 of September, a report updated by the Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources (Ibama) revealed that it is currently affecting 88 towns and 233 localities in the region.

The Monitoring and Evaluation Group (GAA), formed of Ibama, the navy and the National Petroleum Agency, announced that it collected a thousand tonnes of oil waste from northeastern beaches. Oil was found in all the northeastern states: Maranhão, Piauí, Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte, Paraíba, Pernambuco, Alagoas, Sergipe and Bahía. Oil contamination was identified on a stretch of coastline more than two thousand kilometres in length.

Although the exact origin of the crude oil is not known, analysis indicates that the thicker product is not a type produced in Brazil. The substance is a hydrocarbon, confirmed to be tar, the same across all sites where it was analysed.

Currently, investigations into the origin of the hydrocarbon are focusing on 23 suspicious vessels.

Despite several accusations by Brazilian authorities blaming neighbouring governments for the tragedy, the strongest hypothesis about the origin of this environmental crime is a clandestine “ghost ship” carrying contraband petroleum.

The situation is so alarming that football players from the Bahía team in the first division faced their opponents Ceará on October 21st in the city of Salvador wearing kit stained with oil in protest.

“It’s your problem. It’s our problem,” the team chanted to those responsible for the environmental accident, who remain unidentified. They also published a manifesto on the official Bahía website entitled SOS Praia – The oil has even stained our shirts.

Voices in the newspaper media have given reassurance that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak, will investigate the impact of the oil spill on beaches in Brazil’s Northeast.

Tuncak will also assess the measures adopted by the leader of the ultra-rightwing administration to deal with the region’s greatest environmental catastrophe.  (PL)

(Translated by Elizabeth Dann – Email: Photos: Pixabay

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