MAC: Mines and Communities

Brazil: Judge halts rail project close to threatened tribe

Published by MAC on 2012-08-06
Source: Statements,

Judge halts rail project close to Earth's most threatened tribe

Survival International Press Release

2 August 2012

A judge has ordered Brazil's largest mining company to suspend plans to double a controversial railway track, which would have put the livelihoods of Earth's most threatened tribe in jeopardy.

In a major setback for mining giant Vale, the ruling demands an immediate freeze on expansion work along the Carajás railway, and sets a daily penalty of US$25,000 for any breach.

The forest home of Brazil's Awá tribe lies next to the existing railway, along which 2 km-long trains run to the world's largest iron ore mine.

The Indians have vocally contested the mining giant's plans, which they say threaten their livelihoods and those of their uncontacted relatives.

One Awá man said, ‘We don't accept the expansion of the train line which passes right in front of our territory. It is really bad! It makes a lot of noise! The hunters can't find any game; the animals are scared off'.

Speaking to Survival International, Vale insisted it would ‘listen to all the Awá's concerns [and] not obtain the license without doing so'.

However, the judge's damning verdict of Vale's social and environment impact studies, labelled its efforts ‘insufficient'.

It also called the company's public hearings ‘inefficient', and warned the company it risked causing ‘extremely serious environmental degradation.'

Exactly 100 days ago, Survival launched a major campaign to save Earth's most threatened tribe, whose land is being destroyed by illegal loggers, ranchers and settlers.

So far, more than 30,000 people (300 people per day) have written to Brazil's Justice Minister calling for him to do more to protect the tribe, who number just 460.

Brazil's indigenous affairs department FUNAI has agreed to make the Awá its top priority, and MPs in the UK have raised the issue.

Survival's Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘Assuming the judge's ruling is respected, this is good news for the Awá. But the railway isn't the only threat to the tribe's survival. Loggers, ranchers and settlers are still brazenly flouting Brazilian law. Despite assurances from Brazil's authorities, the Awá's way of life still hangs in the balance - we need action.'

Note to Editors:

Although Vale does not have a license to double the whole length of the Carajás railway line, which is currently single track, construction has already begun in parts.

Train terror as mining giant endangers Earth's most threatened tribe

Survival International Press Release

26 July 2012

Plans by a giant mining company to expand a controversial railway line that has already opened up parts of Brazil's Amazon to invaders, are now putting Earth's most threatened tribe in direct danger.

Brazilian company Vale owns the world's largest iron ore mine, transporting its lucrative resources from the Amazon to the Atlantic Ocean in 2 km-long trains.

Now it wants to expand this stretch of railway line to allow some of the longest trains in the world to run simultaneously in both directions, to increase capacity.

But the forest homes of Earth's most threatened tribe, Brazil's Awá, border the railway tracks, putting the tribe, especially those uncontacted, in immediate danger.

The Awá are against the project. They say it will increase the amount of noise from the railway, scare away the game they need to survive, and increase the number of invaders in their forest.

Vale's notorious Carajás mine and railway devastated the Awá tribe in the early 1980s by opening their land up to settlers, ranchers and loggers.

However, despite this legacy and recent objections to Vale's expansion plans, the Awá have not been consulted properly. Vale has instead assumed the railway's inevitability and offered the tribe compensation.

This decision breaks Brazilian and international law, which require companies to consult indigenous communities before beginning such works.

Last December Vale workers set up a camp outside the Awá territory, despite not being granted an installation license to work in the area.

Survival International's Director Stephen Corry said today, ‘World Bank and European Union funding for the Carajás project led to the massive destruction of the Awá's forest. Now only 30 years on, despite a functioning railway line already existing, this senseless expansion is putting yet more pressure on the tribe and their dwindling forest.'

Note to Editors:

Vale expects work to be complete by the end of 2016. If approved, it will allow 230 million tons of iron ore to be transported each year; 100 million more than is currently possible.

Nearly 30,000 people have supported Survival's campaign to save Earth's most threatened tribe since it launched in April.

The Awa, S11D, Colin Firth and flesh-eating bats: Welcome to global mining's environment acid test

Frik Els

28 July 2012

World number one iron ore producer Vale over the weekend "played down fears" that the planned expansion of its Carajas mine - a truly gargantuan project that will see the Brazilian giant commit almost $20 billion over the next few years - would harm the local Awá tribe.

AFP quotes Survival International, an indigenous peoples rights group, as saying the Brazilian firm's plans to have trains as long as two kilometres run in both directions to its port in a remote northern section of the Amazon forest will only increase the pressure on the surviving members of "Earth's most threatened tribe".

The rights group said the Carajas mine and railways "devastated the Awa tribe in the early 1980′s by opening their land up to settlers, ranchers and loggers."

A Brazilian government survey cited by Survival International estimates there could be "up to 4,500 invaders, ranchers, loggers and settlers" occupying just one of the four territories inhabited by the Awa, whose total population stands at no more than 450.

The rights group has enlisted the help of British actor Colin Firth who narrates a short film about the plight of the Awá.

In the film, the Oscar-winner says: "The Awá's forest is being illegally cut for timber. When the loggers see them, they kill them. Their bows and arrows are no match for guns. And at any other time in history, that's where it would end. Another people wiped off the face of the Earth, forever. But we're going to make sure the world doesn't let that happen."

The area also hosts some 2,000 caves that scientists regard as "potentially precious features" because of the high incidence of iron and unusual biology: "One cave descended into hosts four species of bat - only one of them carnivorous, luckily - and excavations in its floor have revealed evidence of human habitation as long as 9,000 years ago" according to a BBC report.

The operations manager of the mine, Jaymilson Magalhaes, tells [the BBC] that the mine complex only covers about 3% of the area of the national forest and that before any digging can start, the company has to have a restoration plan to return the area to its original state.

That includes using spoil to fill in the mines once they are exhausted to reshape the topography - a process we witnessed in one small area - and undertake a massive replanting programme using native species.

The chronically understaffed Brazilian conservation agency only has 12 rangers in that area of the Serra Sul Amazon region "but Vale pays for a further 80, plus cars, boats and the use of a helicopter, all vital to guard against illegal logging and poaching."

According to The Guardian, Ibama , Brazil's environment agency, "has fewer than 1,000 officers on the ground at any one time across a country nearly four times the size of western Europe".

Vale was granted a preliminary environmental license for the lowly-named "S11D" mine in June.

The Carajas complex is the largest iron ore deposit in the world with 7.2 billion tonnes in proven and provable reserves - that's a more than $800 billion contribution to the Brazilian economy at today's prices.

S11D would not only lower Vale's overall costs at the operation, but improve the average quality of the ore it mines.

Vale said in a statement that it plans to spend $8 billion to develop the mine and build a new processing plant, as well as $11.4 billion to expand the railroad and local port to allow it to ship the steel-making ingredient to important markets in Asia using its massive Valemax carriers (400,000 deadweight tonnes).

To ameliorate the planned works' environmental impact, Vale said it would transport iron ore from the mine to the processing plant via 37km of conveyer belts instead of using trucks. At the moment the mine mills 300,000 tonnes per day.

The Rio de Janeiro-based company added S11D would produce 90 million metric tonnes of iron ore - adding some 30% to Vale's current output - and begin operations in 2016.

This week Vale's earnings came in at $2.7 billion, down 59% from $6.5 billion in 2011 and its lowest level in more than two years. Profits sank 30%.

The Q2 results came only days after CEO Tito Martins announced he was leaving the company, marking the fifth top-level substitution in the past eight months at Vale.

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