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“Recent events in Barcarena make it clear that the society around us does not find us a trustworthy partner,” says Must. “What we heard from our neighbors is that we were not close enough, and that they could not rely on the information we provided. This is not who we aspire to be, and we are deeply sorry,” she states.

On Tuesday this week, Hydro arranged an open community meeting in Barcarena, where neighbors were invited and Hydro listened and committed to change.

“Hydro cannot succeed if neighbours and other stakeholders feel that the company is failing them, and we cannot solve these issues alone,” says Must.

New CSR Strategy

The implications are clear: Hydro must step up its efforts to become a trusted partner. The new CSR strategy, developed over the past year, is the roadmap for moving forward. The aim is to create engagement and partnerships with local communities, authorities, universities and civil society.

“To make meaningful changes, we always have to take a people-centred perspective,” says Must, explaining that this means not only asking whether Hydro for example is contributing to water contamination, but also asking what all the sources of water contamination are, and what can be done to make the water safe.

“We have to listen better, explore possible solutions together with partners, and then commit to doing our part. This approach gives far higher impact than developing and implementing stand-alone Hydro projects”, she says.

“Real traction on the challenges that matter to all of us will only come through collective action. When Hydro is a trustworthy partner, we can help make that happen.”

Both long term and short-term actions

Long term plans are not enough for the situation in Barcarena. “During crises, short-term responses are equally important,” says Must, referring to a list of actions that have been implemented, or will be implemented in the coming weeks – all in the Vila Nova, Burajuba and Bom Futuro communities:

  • Weekly community meetings since February 26, community representatives plant visit on March 22
  • Provision of drinking water since February 26, and water reservoirs since March 2, in collaboration with the Civil Defence
  • Commitment to work with local partners such as the water utility company, Águas de São Francisco, to find a permanent solution for water provision. Three meetings have been conducted so far
  • Health services in collaboration with the Municipality from March 2 to March 13, and again from March 19. This includes door to door mapping, diagnosis and treatment, as well as water and soil sampling, by the national Red Cross
  • Local NGO hired as a third-party observer to follow all meetings and initiatives
  • Local NGO to survey agricultural soil quality, starting April 9
  • Hydro to establish new waste sorting facility as part of the new Municipality landfill in Bom Futuro. This project was initiated in 2016, technical engineering is finalized, and March 19 there was a kick off meeting with partners implementing an interlinked environmental awareness program in Barcarena

“Despite our short-comings in Barcarena, acting responsibly has been, and will continue to be, an integral part of how Hydro conducts and develops our businesses, no matter where we operate in the world. Now, we need to start looking forward, to shape a more viable future for the communities around Alunorte. If we are to succeed in this, we need to do it together with local communities, authorities, universities, and civil society – as partners,” says Must.