Liz Bonnin: This isn’t a story about Brazil – it’s a story about all of us

March 7, 2024

Last week, The Guardian spoke with biologist and environmental broadcaster Liz Bonnin about Dead River. The new podcast series tells the story of the Mariana dam disaster that occurred in Brazil over eight years ago.

Mariana dam disaster

On November 5 2015, the Mariana dam collapsed and the River Doce was poisoned by an avalanche of toxic waste. Nineteen people died. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their homes, livelihoods and access to clean water.

“The disaster was so vast that it could be seen from space.” 

Over eight years on, nearly 700,000 Brazilians affected by the disaster are still fighting for justice.  

Represented by Pogust Goodhead, victims of the tragedy are taking on BHP and Vale, the co-owners of the dam. The case is due to begin this October in the English courts.

Liz Bonnin podcast

Throughout the Dead River podcast, Liz Bonnin tells the in-depth story of the Mariana dam disaster. She tells the Guardian that Dead River is one of the most multilayered, complex, fascinating stories she has ever been part of. 

The six-part series examines the history of mining in Brazil, the day that disaster struck in 2015, the victims who are still fighting for justice and the impact of the disaster on the River Doce.   

“Their homes have been destroyed, their livelihoods, but also with the loss of their river they have lost their sense of identity, and their spirituality. I know it will spark feelings in people just to hear how they speak about their land.” – Liz Bonnin in The Guardian.  

The Guardian notes: “While it is billed as a true crime podcast, Dead River encompasses everything from environmental destruction to colonial history, family tragedy to perilous chase scenes, indigenous anthropology to the sheer brutal fact of what a river carpeted with a million dead fish looks like.” 

Dead River podcast

Speaking about the victims who feature throughout Liz Bonnin’s podcast, The Guardian described them as ‘acting more like action movie heroes.’ 

Paula Geralda Alvez has just one of these stories featured in Dead River. When the Mariana dam collapsed, Paula immediately jumped on her motorbike and headed for Bento Rodrigues. She was desperate to warn people of the impending danger.  

“Paula was so connected to community that her first thought was to save it; at the risk to her own life.”

Liz Bonnin

On what Britain can learn from the Mariana dam disaster, Liz explains: “To me, it’s so obvious that this matters to us. The natural world isn’t ours to exploit; it’s ours to protect so we can bloody well survive. This isn’t a story about Brazil – it’s a story about all of us.” 

Read the full interview in The Guardian now

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