In November 2015, the failure of the Fundão tailings dam at the Samarco mine in the State of Minas Gerais, Brazil, resulted in severe environmental, economic and social damage, as well as 19 deaths. The tailings spill ran approximately 650 km, from the mine through the Doce River to eventually reach the Atlantic Ocean.
Since then, Samarco, which is jointly owned (each with 50% interest) by BHP and Vale, has focused on responding to the needs of the affected communities, repairing and maintaining the existing dams, assessing the environmental and socio-economic impacts from the accident and initiating substantial remediation and compensation programs. Last year, the companies created the Renova Foundation to implement this work.
In 2016, IUCN was asked by the Renova Foundation to consider creating an Independent Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (ISTAP) that could provide technical guidance for the major restoration underway in the Rio Doce watershed. IUCN sought input on the development and design of the panel from relevant stakeholders, including representatives from the local communities, NGOs, government and academia in Brazil and elsewhere.
In June 2017, IUCN announced that Yolanda Kakabase, a globally recognised environmentalist and former President of IUCN, would serve as the Panel Chair. (See the announcement here.)
Since then, the full panel has been appointed through an open and competitive process. (See the list of Panel members and their biographies, as well as the Terms of Reference in English and Portuguese.)
In September 2017, the Rio Doce Panel held its first meeting in Brazil, visiting some of the local stakeholders and areas affected by the tailings dam collapse. (See the agenda for the first meeting.)
Based on their preliminary findings and discussions with community, company and government officials, the Panel is now tasked with reviewing the 42 programmes that the Renova Foundation has already commissioned in the region, as a starting point to setting its priorities and developing a work plan for the next five years.