Rio De Janeiro Floods and the Debate on Global Warming

By Martins, Jose Pedro | NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs, February 11, 2011 | Go to article overview

Rio De Janeiro Floods and the Debate on Global Warming


Martins, Jose Pedro, NotiSur - South American Political and Economic Affairs


Between Jan. 11 and Feb. 1, 2011, 877 people died in cities in the state of Rio de Janeiro as a consequence of the floods that devastated the mountainous region. The final death toll could be even higher, since many people are still looking for family members who disappeared during the floods NotiSur, Jan. 21, 2011. More than 35,000 people were still displaced in early February. Hundreds of houses have been closed to prevent more deaths from landslides.

It is not the first time that heavy rains have taken many lives and left many others homeless in cities in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro. But the meteorological phenomena in early 2011 were particularly strong, hitting cities such as Nova Friburgo, Teresopolis, Sao Jose do Vale do Rio Preto, and the sophisticated Petropolis, called the Imperial City, which was built by the royal families when Brazil was still a monarchy.

Most of the dead and those left homeless by the floods lived in the mountainous areas and were therefore more vulnerable to the heavy rains. That fed the debate regarding the need for better urban planning to prevent families from living in high-risk areas and the discussion regarding possible impacts of climate changes caused by global warming.

The tragedy in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro had myriad consequences. After the rivers receded, the number of cases of diseases such as leptospirosis, transmitted by water contaminated by rat urine, increased. In Nova Friburgo, 10 cases of leptospirosis had been confirmed by late January.

Brazilians were touched by the plight of families of the dead and disappeared. Teams of volunteers throughout the country mobilized to collect medicines, food, and clothing to send to cities in Rio de Janeiro. Hundreds of volunteers also went to work directly in the affected cities to care for the thousands of victims.

Various institutions mobilized to assist the work of Defensa Civil and other agencies, which made the mountainous areas of Rio de Janeiro a priority. In the days following the floods that destroyed hundreds of houses and caused the deaths and disappearances, the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (INPE), for example, sent high-resolution satellite images in an effort to help Defensa Civil. The images are from the International Charter Space and Major Disasters, a consortium of space agencies and centers from various countries that act to support nations hit by major natural disasters. The INPE is part of that consortium.

Officials scramble to prevent future disasters

One measure announced by the Rio de Janeiro state government to prevent future tragedies was the creation of five linear parks along the rivers in the municipalities of Nova Friburgo, Petropolis, and Teresopolis. The objective is to restore the vegetation, thus helping to prevent the soil erosion that leads to flooding.

"The parks are projects that protect the interior rivers, the atmosphere, and the people," said Carlos Minc, Rio de Janeiro state secretary for the environment. Minc was environment minister in the last years of the administration of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. "By doing this, we prevent death and human suffering when the floods come."

Various social measures were announced to help the victims. Collection of property taxes was suspended for flood victims. Many families will receive financial assistance to pay their rent.

The tragedy has, of course, fostered debate on whether Brazil is prepared for intense consequences of global-warming-induced climate change. …

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