Crixas, Brazil, Aug 11 (EFE).- “I like being here, but there’s no way I can stay anymore,” 81-year-old Maria Pereira dos Reis, one of the last inhabitants of Santos Reis, a small community in central Brazil that has become a ghost town due to gold mining, said with resignation in her voice.
With no parishioners showing up for church services, stores closed and most houses turned to rubble, Santos Reis is on the verge of disappearing from the map entirely 27 years after its founding.
That rural community located about 350 kilometers (215 miles) northwest of Brasilia is situated some 200 meters (655 feet) from Serra Grande, a giant mining complex operated by South Africa’s AngloGold Ashanti that has open galleries at different levels and descends to a depth of more than 600 meters.
The excavation work and underground blasting produces large volumes of dust that are released through several ventilation ducts, one of which is located near the neighborhood where Maria Pereira lives.
Many people have developed lung problems, according to complaints filed by local residents, while other health risks include noise pollution from the explosions and rock slides.
But Santos Reis is just one of many communities affected by mining activities in recent years.
In Maceio, capital of the northeastern state of Alagoas, five residential neighborhoods that are home to around 60,000 people suffered a similar fate after mining work recently affected the stability of the soil.
Then there was the 2019 tragedy in the southeastern municipality of Brumadinho, where 270 people died after the rupture of a tailings dam operated by Brazilian mining giant Vale triggered an avalanche of mud that in a matter of seconds buried nearby homes and some of the company’s installations.
Santos Reis was founded in 1995, nine years after operations began at Serra Grande, a mine that employs 2,000 people directly and is that region’s economic engine.
Beginning as 198 initial plots of land, that community in Crixas, a municipality in Goias state, expanded without basic sanitation nor any plans to avoid the growing impact of mining activity.
Complaints from local inhabitants about a lack of essential services and the impact of mining on their homes eventually became more frequent and led to the signing of a resettlement agreement in 2018.
Crixas’ environment secretary, Carlos Borges, told Efe that the impact of mining activity on that area is very potent due to the proximity of the mine (constant dust, loud noises from machines and permanent temblors “like an earthquake”).
Nevertheless, he said the situation in Santos Reis was the result of the negligence of everyone involved.
As a result of that negligence, the 33.9 million reais (around $6.4 million) the town received as compensation for mineral extraction between 2013 and 2018 apparently were squandered, mining unions say.
Joao Luis Araujo, president of the regional mining union, also criticized the way in which the negotiations for the community’s relocation unfolded, saying that the “proper value wasn’t paid.”
Negotiations for the transfer of the inhabitants of Santos Reis were conducted on an individual basis with Serra Grande, according to a plan drawn up by a third-party firm that “was discussed and prepared” by all stakeholders, according to an Attorney General’s Office document.
AngloGold Ashanti, for its part, told Efe the process of relocating the inhabitants of Santos Reis began at the community’s request, adding that most of the relocations occurred between 2018 and 2021 and that the negotiations that had remained pending were finalized earlier this year.
It added that the goal was to improve the housing conditions of the families who were living in the region and lacked adequate infrastructure. EFE