By Lisa Flueckiger, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – An alert system is currently being installed in several neighborhoods of the Niterói municipal area to warn residents about mud- and landslides that endanger the communities during heavy rainfall, as happened in the Morro do Bumba community in 2010. The system is part of several efforts of the city to prevent and cope with natural disasters.
Installations of the warning system, including sirens and rain gauges, began on Monday, September 16th in 29 communities in Niterói and will be finalized by November this year. Between 2008 and 2012, mapping had identified 1,183 points of risk in the area.
“By knowing the weather forecast, we can anticipate actions to protect the communities. If the rain reaches a critical level of landslide risk, measured by rain gauges, the alarm system will go off,” Colonel Sergio Simões, the secretary of state of Civil Defense, explained at a press conference.
The integrated alert system will cost R$3 million and be built in partnership with the federal government. The program plans to coordinate data with the Center for Monitoring and Alert for Natural Disasters, Metrologists, Geotechnicians and Hydrologists from the Civil Defense, the Center for Monitoring and Alert Cachoeira Paulista in São Paulo, and the Rio Operations Center.
“Among the many partnerships that the city has with the state government, this is one of the most important. Niterói experienced the worst tragedy in its history and we need to turn that page of the sad tragedy of Bumba,” Rodrigo Neves, Niterói’s Mayor, stated.
“Niterói will be the first city to receive the system because of the common effort and understanding led by the city. I can say that we are changing the system of civil defense. No other state is so advanced in its concept of community protection. This is a moment of professional achievement for me, because, ultimately, it is a project that saves lives,” Simões explained.
After Niterói, the system is also planned to be installed in 27 other municipalities such as Angra dos Reis, Duque de Caxias and São Gonçalo, receiving R$50 million from the state government. The municipalities are currently mapped to define priorities and around 800 families are being trained to act proactively before an imminent risk, collaborating with civil defense of their region.
In Rio, some warning sirens, such as in Morro do Borel, have already been installed, after ninety families had lost their home after heavy rains and landslides in April 2010. Together with the alert system and part of the “Chuvas de Verão” (Summer rains) plan, Niterói will also receive R$23 million to install containment structures.
Installations will start next month in communities such as Holofote, Bonfim and Igrejinha. Also in planning is Niterói’s first weather station. So far, containment construction worth R$15 million has already been conducted this year in Morro do Palácio, Bairro de Fátima, Grota do Surucucu, Capim Melado and Caramujo according to Neves.
“We need to prevent and manage these risks. The weather station, the alarm system and gauges will allow us to look at the hills with a management point of view. We will be able to change the logic of only helping and constructing after the disasters,” Vice-mayor Alex Grael added.
Every year, heavy rains hit the region around Rio de Janeiro mostly during January through March in what has been termed “Aguas de Março” (March water). They cause flooding, which frequently leads to landslides in the hilly communities. In Rio, 67 of the 92 municipalities have areas that are at risk for landslides.
In April 2010, 250 people died after landslides in hte city of Rio, with the mudslide in Morro do Bumba being one of the most devastating. In January 2011, over 1,000 people died or remain missing in Região Serrana (Rio state), in what was registered as the worst weather-related tragedy in Brazil’s history.