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Published on 25 January 2022
Written by Nadia Saraci

Brumadinho dam rupture

The photo above displays an arpillera (artwork in applique and embroidery) made in August 2019 in Brumadinho. It portrays collective trauma and grief, including dramatic rescue efforts, deaths, people waiting for news, and the raging noise of the helicopters that marked the suffering of families in the immediate aftermath of the Brumadinho dam rupture.

In the last three weeks, more than 28,000 people have been displaced and at least 15 others have been killed by floods and landslides in the state of Minas Gerais, in south-eastern Brazil, due to torrential rains. [1]

The areas affected included the Paraopeba river basin, including the municipalities of Brumadinho and Juatuba [2] which were badly affected by the rupture Brumadinho dam rupture exactly three years ago, on 25 January 2019.

The floods exacerbate the already very difficult situation that local communities and women in the 26 municipalities of the Papaopeba river basin have faced since dam I of the Córrego do Feijão Mina Complex in the municipality of Brumadinho, owned by Vale, collapsed and spilled 11.7 m3 of toxic waste and mud (residue from mining activities), burying homes and infrastructure and contaminating the Paraopeba river, which was the lifeblood of local communities. 

The dam rupture has had profound effects on human rights and living conditions, particularly for women who have been disproportionately affected.

Now, there is a danger that these may be compounded by the floods, which could further spread the toxic materials and mud which according to scientific studies are still present in high quantities in the riverbed,[3] and exacerbate the high levels of anxiety and mental illness among affected communities, as some reports on recent floods indicate.[4]

Today Christian Aid and Movimento dos Atingidos por Barragens (MAB) have published a report that documents how, three years on, the devastating environmental and social impacts of the Brumadinho dam rupture continue to undermine the achievement of human rights, particularly of women, in the affected communities. Research undertaken with the MAB Women’s Collective among affected women demonstrates that the Brumadinho tailings dam rupture has undermined women’s rights, specifically, in relation to access to water and to a healthy environment, gender equality and freedom from violence, decent work and income, and mental health.

It describes how this has exacerbated gender inequalities by disproportionately affecting women in poor and marginalised communities who already faced multiple and intersecting barriers to achieving their rights; and how reparation efforts led by Vale have been insufficient to guarantee women's rights. The report shows that these violations have generated specific concerns and differential burdens on women which, if not adequately addressed, will contribute to a ‘vicious cycle’ of poor health, gender-based violence and poverty.

The situation of affected women can only be overcome through reparative measures that are gender transformative and address intersecting inequalities.

These should not only address the differential impacts of the disaster on women and men but also support affected women’s leadership and agency, increase their access to resources, and guarantee their freedom from discrimination and violence.  However, the research findings clearly point to an absence of gender differentiated response by Vale and attention to the harm caused to women. An independent assessment acknowledges that there are no specific measures for women in any of the agreements, reports, or decisions in the lawsuits against Vale [5].

The affected women, many of whom still do not have adequate access to clean water, have been collectively demanding adequate reparations. They are calling on the governments of Minas Gerais State, the federal government of Brazil and Vale to mitigate and repair the damage caused to their lives and communities by the dam collapse. The affected communities need support to restore lost livelihoods, access to sufficient water and healthcare, independently verified information about the risks of the contamination to food production and fishing, and interventions to prevent and address gender-based violence which has increased since the disaster.   

More broadly, it is essential that the lessons from the Brumadinho disaster inform the drafting process of a legally binding treaty on business and human rights.

This should incorporate effective accountability mechanisms to address human rights abuses perpetrated by companies, effective regulation of large-scale mining operations, mandatory gender impact assessments of business activities, and gender-sensitive justice and remedy mechanisms.

Many of the women affected by the Brumadinho dam rupture and its aftermath have faced a backlash (often violence or harassment) because of their continued campaigning and efforts to claim their rights.  This illustrates why it is also essential a binding treaty ensure respect, protection and an enabling environment for women human rights defenders.

The Mud Went Through my Soul

In this report, we focus on how the Brumadinho tailings dam rupture has undermined women’s rights.


[1] See BBC News, Brazil rains: Minas Gerais hit by deadly landslides and floods, 12 January 2022, available at:

[2] Floodlist, Brazil – Thousands Displaced After More Floods and Landslides in Minas Gerais,; Instituto Mineiro de Gestão das Águas - IGAM - Estado notifica Vale para adoção de medidas em áreas impactadas do Rio Paraopeba,

[3] Cristiane dos Santos Vergilio et al., Metal concentrations and biological effects from one of the largest mining disasters in the world (Brumadinho, Minas Gerais, Brazil), Scientific Reports 10, 5936 (2020). For some reports providing some evidence on this proposition in relation to recent floods, see O Tempo, Moradores de Betim expostos a lama relatam ter feridas e diarreia, 19 January 2022; O Tempo, Prefeituras do Médio Paraopeba se mobilizam e coletam resíduos, 19 January 2022.

[4] See O Tempo, IGAM cobra reparação da VALE para minimizar impactos no PARAOPEBA ,; BBC News, Brazil rains: Minas Gerais hit by deadly landslides and floods, 12 January 2022, available at: