By: Sophie Cavalcanti
Two months ago, in the northeastern region of Brazil, pristine beaches were caught in the middle of a nightmare, clear waters suddenly and unexplainably becoming black. Nearly 2,500 kilometers of coastline have been affected by a mysterious oil contamination. In the end of August, oil patches began to appear in the beaches of the state of Pernambuco, reaching the state of Bahia in October. At this point, more than 300 localities in nine states have been affected by this environmental disaster. This is the third major environmental catastrophe hitting the country this year alone, following the rupture of the Brumadinho barrage – an iron ore mine tailings dam in the State of Minas Gerais and the fires that are still destroying the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal wetlands flora and fauna.
This disaster is devastating to the poor fishing communities in the region, which rely heavily on ecotourism and the sale of seafood. Community members are finding themselves hopeless and having their subsistence threatened. As locals are desperately trying to clean the oil residues in the sand and water with their own hands and scarce resources, many are getting sick. Several volunteers, locals, and tourists are being seen at the emergency departments of different hospitals, after having been in contact with the oil. They are presenting acute signs of intoxication that include nausea, vomiting, and skin lesions. The long-term consequences of this exposure are unknown and should be monitored properly by health authorities.
In addition to the human health toll, dozens of turtles, birds, and dolphins have already died because of the oil spill, which is now moving towards whale migration areas. The oil contamination is about to reach Abrolhos Marine National Park. Abollhos is a small archipelago with clear waters and a great diversity of underwater flora and fauna, including rare coral formations. If this happens, there will be irreversible consequences to this conservation area.
While the world is deeply alarmed about what is going on in Brazil this year, the right-wing government of Jair Bolsonaro was completely inert, minimizing the disaster and waiting for 41 days to implement the national contingency plan, which allowed for mobilizing financial resources and deploying military to the field to help with the oil cleaning. In addition, the Tourism Minister Marcelo Alvaro Antonio in October made a surreal declaration in October, stating that some beaches are already "clean" and "ready for swimming", according to the Brazilian press. Moreover, the Environment Minister Ricardo Salles published a photo of a Greenpeace ship on Twitter, saying that the ship was navigating off Brazil's northeastern coast when the spill is believed to have occurred, naming them “eco-terrorists” and insinuating that they could have been responsible for the disaster. Greenpeace representatives stated that they would take legal action and intend to sue the Brazilian Minister for his declaration. It sounds like all the Ministers of this government are exactly on the same page, marked by inconsequent statements and lack of responsibility with public health, the environment, and the economic welfare of affected communities.
As the crisis unfolds, Brazilian authorities declared this week that a Greek-flagged ship carrying Venezuelan crude oil was responsible for the spill. Investigators said oceanographic and geolocation data indubitably shows the Greek ship was the only one navigating near the origin of the spill, about 700km off Brazil’s coast, between July 28–29. Search warrants were conducted at offices linked to two companies with commercial relationships with the ship’s operator in Rio de Janeiro. As the Company responsible for the ship denies any responsibility on the disaster, Brazilian authorities are also requesting cooperation from Interpol and other international agencies to advance investigations.
Out-of-Town (informally called MUNdays) is a publication run by students in Exeter's Model UN club. Currently, the amazing Sophie Fernandez '22 maintains the publication, curates its articles, and edits them. We do accept outside submissions! If you have an article or reflection on foreign policy, email firstname.lastname@example.org!