Roberto S. Waack
“We must reconcile production and reparation”
Biologist and business administrator Roberto S. Waack unites an extensive experience as an businessman in national and international companies, entrepreneur and manager in civil society non-profit organizations. As President of Renova Foundation, he is mainly focused in reconciling the management of the entire operation to the different perspectives of all parties involved in the reparation works. Allied to that, he is prepared to deal with complex situations, by shedding an expanded look at the legacy that will be built over time, as much as to add a sense of urgency in putting in place concrete actions, jointly devised with society, as quickly as possible.
Questions from society representatives
What has Renova Foundation been doing to provide society with transparency on its actions and structures?
Dr. Valma Cunha, State Prosecutor in Minas Gerais
There are a number of actions in this regard. Programs and projects are discussed in conversation forums of different levels, and with a number of members of society, in order to understand problems, get suggestions of possible solutions, design a solution driven working program, develop result indicators and, finally, to create implementation and monitoring mechanisms. This modus operandi is complemented by discussing programs and projects in the Technical Chambers and the Inter-Federative Committee, forums which count on a major participation by society. Moreover, creating the Advisory Board with the participation of representatives from the affected communities, affected river basin committees and members of the academia, provides an account rendering routine as meetings are held monthly.
Renova Foundation also relies on a number of communication instruments, including a website, radio programs, social media activities and, in special, a strong presence in the field. A number of programs count on the participation of local organizations in their activities.
And last, but not least, activities are audited in different aspects including accounting and finance, under the supervision of the Fiscal Council, as well as processes and finalistic deliverables. Every audit is held by independent first-class auditing partners. We understand that transparency is not merely an obligation but an important substrate for rerouting whenever required. We are fully aware that the challenges have no simple and ready solutions. Transparency provides an access channel and a permanent dialogue with society, certainly the greatest source of knowledge for the solutions we will need to find and implement.
What are the specific development plans that Renova Foundation has for the community of Povoação, who lives almost entirely from fishing? I know you have those and 40 and something projects, but what, in fact, will be implemented in the community?
Simião Barbosa dos Santos, President of the Association of Fishermen and Alike from Povoação (APAP), Linhares (Espírito Santo)
Renova Foundation recognizes the importance of the fishing activity to the Povoação region and to several other Doce river valley regions. We are aware that some of our responses are quite below expectations. We are making progress in detecting and registering victims in order to accelerate the mediated compensation procedure.
Although time-consuming, this action is necessary as it will ensure that everybody claiming some sort of comp will be actually heard.
In the specific case of fishermen, the hydroponics pilot project (suspended fish tanks) is under implementation.
In addition to this one, several other actions are being further developed, based on conversations with community members and diagnostic actions. The list of suggestions is being converted into a set of regional projects. One example is the participation by fishermen in activities such as fishing for biodiversity and food safety scientific studies. Another possible action involves community participation in gathering seeds for forestry recovery programs. There are also alternatives such as involving fishermen in tourism activities with small boats. However, it should be clear that we have not defined yet this program as planned, hearing more and in a more structured manner, providing a broader answer to your query and that of a number of community members. We still expect that during the first half of the year this joint action plan will be completed.
What can the Foundation do employment wise for the affected population in Mariana? In addition to the crisis, people are being stigmatized when look for a job.
Paula Geraldo Alves, resident of Bento Rodrigues
Renova Foundation has been prioritizing the hiring of local people and local businesses. This is a first contribution for job creation, but we know this is far from meeting the demands of the population. For this reason, we have some programs focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and training in various activities that can be carried out by the local people for longer periods of time. They are aimed at increasing business opportunities, further reducing the dependence on sectors such as mining. Some of these programs are under way and we expect to start implementing them later this year. They are part of our conversations with members of the community and organizations focused on training and innovation in the States of Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo.
With respect to stigmatization, Paula, it is unacceptable. It is not easy, however, to understand how these things happen in our society. The Foundation is, little by little, implementing its communication program, which involves a number of forms and topics. Among them, this situation that you report will be addressed with due care, so that we can dream of a situation where the entire society that lives from Mariana to the mouth of the Doce river can participate, each in its own way,
in repairing the damage caused by the dam breach and in building a more balanced way of life for everyone. The world is undergoing important changes with respect to the relationship between people and nature. This situation will open new work alternatives, especially for a region with such a rich natural, human and cultural heritage landscape.
QUESTIONS FROM THE EDITORS
We have to recognize that this perception of slowness does, indeed, make sense. And we need to speed up the implementation of recovery actions in order to revert this situation and, consequently, this image. No matter how much this is not an attempt to justify things, it is important to bear in mind that we are facing a significant change. We have begun to define and implement structural actions that have a slower rhythm of implementation if compared to the initial emergency actions. Aside to that, the whole process has undergone another transition period, which was the consolidation of Renova Foundation in August 2016, as an independent entity responsible for creating solutions that will have a lasting positive impact on the region affected by the dam breach.
We are facing a challenge for which there are no overt the counter solutions. On the contrary, we are facing a lot of ambiguity, contradictions between multiple views, and we need to build a consensus around solutions that will be at the frontiers of knowledge. Having said that, we have adopted the premise of developing solutions from the involvement of society. More time is spent in this participatory process, but we shall gain efficiency in its implementation, which will have the support of the stakeholders. We are going to recover this time further ahead. Therefore, it is worth making this investment in collective construction in order to address this complexity in the development of solutions.
It is our goal that 37 of the 42 programs under the responsibility of Renova Foundation will have passed the stage of adjustment and adaptation of what must be done for their final execution. In concrete terms, this means that a series of actions should already be experienced in the field. For example, we must test models on: how to recover water springs, how to start reforesting and promoting cultural events, among so many others. Similarly, all the containment structures need to be erected and consolidated, the solution for the dredging of Candonga (the reservoir of the Risoleta Neves Hydroelectric Power Plant, which lodged 10.5 million cubic meters of tailings), as defined by the public prosecutor, should be ready and in implementation, and this is an engineering challenge. We need to count on the guarantee that over the next rainy season tailings will not be washed down into the river and that, therefore, we shall have the impact under control with no incoming ones. From an internal perspective, our goal is to have an organization capable of dealing with long-term structural actions as a legacy – a team with this imprinted identity, with this long-term commitments, aided to the short term ones, that manages to promote the engagement and participation of society in a concrete solution generating process.
Without a doubt, the definition of governance throughout the entire recovery process, which is highly innovative. How to put this big of a challenge under the umbrella of an incredibly complex governance system, with an average of 150 people and organizations sharing in the decision-making process. There was a widespread lack of belief in the functioning of this participatory model of governance and it is already working. As a matter of fact, we totally lacked such an experience in Brazil of how to respond to major disasters and this has been a highly valuable lesson.
First and foremost, for legal reasons, a private law entity ought to be structurally independent, directly reporting to the Public Prosecution Office. On top of that, there is the governance system, defined by the Conduct Adjustment Declaration (TTAC), which created the inter-federative committee (IFC), responsible for maintaining the dialogue and monitoring the actions of the Foundation. The Advisory Board is another a key element with representatives from society. The Board of Trustees should strive to achieve the Foundation’s best interests and its core responsibilities are related to strategy, governance, risk management and budget allocation.
We are learning to deal with the complexity, in special, governance wise. But there are very serious obstacles from the technical solutions point of view in areas for which science still has no answer. There is no consensus, for example, with respect to the restoration of forests through planting native species. This is a technical barrier that will have to be overcome as quickly as possible. We need to come out of the dialogues with concrete solutions. It is important to remember that we operate 100% in third party areas and it will be in these areas that this restoration will occur. Therefore, in order to have a sustainable solution, it must make sense to the owner from the economic point of view, both immediately and in the long run. The big challenge of the year will be to identify the best solution to reconcile production and restoration. After all, the plots of land of these owners, mostly small farmers, are their livelihood. Only with this combination (production and conservation) will these initiatives make sense to them.
We have no right to linger in the discussion with specialists and organizations for the sake of discussion. We need to make the shift to the practical application. We must translate all this diversity of opinions into concrete filed actions, which is a big challenge. Finally, we also have to understand how to reconcile our initiatives with the existing public policies.
We have to switch from the recovery perspective to the legacy one. In other words, not only rebuilding or recovering for the short term, but doing it aware that every action can, and should, entail the foundations of a sustainable future.
This is an opportunity for a developmental inflexion of the entire region. Based on the premise of reconciling production with conservation, we should leave the individual vision of each property, and look at the whole territory instead, developing innovative long-term territorial management strategy. Within this spatial logic, developing ecological corridors, integrating with the revitalization of the springs and democratizing the opportunity for all producers in the region, bringing more advanced concepts of land use, logistics, disposal, access to markets, financial flows, payment for environmental services and etc., it is possible to dream of the legacy of a social technology, supported by a system of participatory governance that reduces the volatility of the process and which could be applied to many other degraded regions in Brazil.
Renova Foundation aims at being a facilitator of this recovery process which may lead to a new development model for the Doce river basin, for which there is no easy solution, since it is not based on paternalistic but rather on structuring actions. It is based on the search for environmental, social and economic balance by mobilizing society. Population is ultimately the one to buy this idea. The only caretaker of this model is society. If we manage to do this in the territory affected, we can think of something similar for other regions of Brazil.