By Sibel Tinar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – One month after heavy tropical rains struck Northeastern Brazil and caused severe flooding killing over seventy people, the hardest-hit rural regions in the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco are still suffering, as diseases spread in unhygienic conditions, while relief efforts are delayed or hindered by logistical challenges.
Unusually heavy rainfall in late June caused the Mundaú River to overflow, and floods swept through the area, partially destroying 67 towns, killing 72, and displacing 157,000 people. The government declared a state of emergency in both Alagoas and Pernambuco, as national and international aid organizations were mobilized to provide clean water, food and tents, and to set up military hospitals.
However, within a matter of days Alagoas’ Defesa Civil (Civil Defense) released a statement saying that they had had to suspend the receiving of donations for victims, citing a lack of storage space for clothing items and food as the reason.
The resulting widespread criticism of the announcement with thousands still lacking supplies and water brought a swift about-face from the authority, and, claiming a misunderstanding with regard to their previous statement, declared that they were in fact able to receive and store and would distribute donations as required.
Alongside the chaos that was caused by the destruction of governmental buildings, hospitals, and schools, deadly infectious diseases such as leptospirosis, which is transmitted to humans through contact with water or mud contaminated by rat urine, have started spreading across the region. So far the disease has claimed two lives in Alagoas, and the State Department of Health has reported that they had 34 suspected, and six confirmed cases.
The state health authorities have also reported that they have been attending hundreds of victims suffering from respiratory problems, diarrhea, and snake or scorpion bites, as the incidence of such problems and infectious diseases have vastly increased because of water contamination, and unhygienic living conditions that have ensued as a direct consequence of the disaster.
In an effort to prevent further spreading of diseases, family health professionals together with emergency workers have started visiting local shelters to provide basic care, while the state set up mobile hospitals in the cities that face the biggest danger.
The federal government, on the other hand, has taken several initiatives in order to provide more effective aid in the area, centralizing certain relief efforts, and authorizing the release of the Fundo de Amparo ao Trabalhador (Worker Support Fund) amounting to R$8.7 million (USD$4.8 million). The fund will be distributed to flood victims in two installments of R$580 (USD$324) in the form of unemployment insurance, and a salary bonus will be awarded to the workers who resume employment in late July or August.
The BNDES (Brazilian National Development Bank) has also launched an emergency program to help restore the economies of the affected municipalities that will allocate funds up to R$1 billion ($558 million) to companies that have suffered most in the region. The BNDES Emergency Reconstruction Program will offer financing for the purchase of equipment and machinery, construction, as well as working capital in the states of Alagoas and Pernambuco.