By Bhamika Bhudia, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In the wake of the devastating mudslides, the country’s worst natural disaster to date, Nova Friburgo in the State of Rio de Janeiro has suffered major damage to homes, factories, shops and hotels, which officials estimate will require a R$500 million loan in order to rebuild and resume commerce.
Building on steep hills and inclines has long been a challenge closer to the city of Rio as well. Recently Geo Rio, the Geotechnical Institute of the Municipality of Rio de Janeiro, has focused on the risks of many homes in the city built in potentially dangerous areas.
Just last April mudslides claimed hundreds of lives around the city of Rio. In this case much of the worst damage happened in illegally constructed favela communities, but the issue is obviously not isolated.
Steve Yolen, an American expat living in Nova Friburgo reported, “Based upon talks with some knowledgeable sources, 80 percent of the damage and loss of life could have been avoided if existing building codes had been respected.”
Yolen explains, “The amount of rain that fell would have destroyed property and taken lives anywhere in the world, but the majority of loss could have been avoided through strict adherence to the building codes and not letting people build in areas of known risk.”
Constructing safer property in such areas is a big investment involving many parties, says Rick Okawa, Deputy Vice President of Global Services for NGO International Code council. “It requires the co-operation of local and national governments to make sure that these areas get this, and the appropriate measures are taken to minimize damage caused by natural disasters.”
The main issue with natural disasters like mudslides is land use planning, and risk assessments. This should be done before a township is allowed to sprawl, focusing on soil structure, land drainage, precipitation as well as recommendations for how deep structural foundations need to be lain into the ground.
“Landslides often occur in these populated areas because the ground is fully saturated with water, the runoff becomes concentrated because of restricted, blocked off and diverted gullies. And in hilly areas this runoff is faster and more energetic,” says Jay Gorasia, MD of British construction company Porchfern Ltd.
However Gorasia is unconvinced that the enforcement of building regulations and land planning rules is a viable solution. “Even though these regulations could help, they would make construction much more expensive. If people could afford these costs, they would go to an area with better infrastructure and drainage. It’s really a chicken and egg situation.”