By Nicole Pelligrino, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Recent flooding in Brazil’s northern and northeastern regions, stretching from the Amazon to the Atlantic coast, has forced Brazilian authorities to reexamine the nation’s preparedness for such disasters. The torrential rains and their aftermath continue to haunt residents.
States of emergency have been declared throughout the region. Some 370,000 individuals have been rendered homeless, while 45 are missing or dead as a result of mudslides, poor drainage, overflowing riverbanks, and unnavigable currents during attempted escapes. Looting has been reported throughout the region. Residents have criticized that the delivery of food and water has been too slow, and the situation is dire.
Lula has cited climate change as the primary culprit of the floods, claiming “Brazil is feeling climate changes that are happening in the world, when there is a deep drought in a place where there’s never been one, when it rains in places where it never rains.” As the north was bombarded with rain, southern inland Brazil continues to experience it’s worst drought in eight decades. However, residents of southern Brazil’s Litoral region can recall the devastation of last November’s rains.
The Santa Catarina flood, displaced nearly 100,000 and killed nearly 100. Drinking water and food shortages prompted mass looting of supermarkets. Natural gas service was interrupted to Santa Catarina and neighboring Rio Grande do Sul after a mudslide ruptured a crucial pipeline. President Lula invested approximately R$1.5 billion into repairs and relief efforts.
The city of Rio de Janeiro is no stranger to devastating floods either. On January 11, 1966, a flash flood killed nearly 400 individuals, mainly in favelas, the result of mudslides which collapsed homes and displaced 50,000. The floods wreaked havoc in Ipanema and Copacabana, and much of the city had felt the effects of the storm by the following day. Much of the city lost power and even chic high-rise dwellers were left to deal with the wreckage left by the flood waters.
Though devastation of this magnitude is rare in the city of Rio, residents can attest to the flooding and drainage issues nearly every time the city experiences a significant, or at times, what should be a relatively inconsequential rainfall. “When it rains, the storm drains are so full, beyond capacity, that they shoot water back onto the street. The storm waters then go into shops, bars and restaurants. This isn’t just once in awhile; it happens at least once every two months or so, all year long. The city is simply not prepared to withstand considerable rainfall,” attests long-time Lapa resident Todd Teague.
Moacyr Duarte, a specialist in Risk Management and Emergency Planning at Coppe/UFRJ, claimed that Rio was ill-prepared for the heavy rains, citing a mixture of geographic issues and poor urban planning as the main culprits of the flooding quandry. He specifically criticized lack of investment in better drainage systems, and the city’s inability to deal with excess rain water.
In a study conducted by Carlos T.M. Tucci at the Insititute for Hydraulic Research at The Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), he blames occupation of flood plains, and urban runoff from surrounding hills as the main culprits of flooding. Tucci cites urban population growth as a particularly pressing issue, maintaining that many Brazilian cities “lack […] planning and public investment to guide urban expansion.”