Fortunately, Brazil doesn’t have to deal with deadly earthquakes, hurricanes and tsunamis that can kill thousands of people at a time, as the tragic scenes from Turkey and Syria have shown us in recent weeks. But that doesn’t mean the country isn’t vulnerable to severe rains. In fact, every year Brazil suffers from deadly climate disasters that are far more avoidable than a shift in tectonic plates.
In 2022 alone, we saw deaths caused by floods and landslides in southern Bahia state (January), countryside Rio de Janeiro (February), and Pernambuco (June). Every year, you can turn on the television and see footage of Brazilian homes being swept away by rivers of mud, a result of seasonal heavy rains. Not unpredictable natural disasters, but annual rains.
This year, the first region to suffer tragedy from the rains was the northern coast of the state of São Paulo, where massive rains caused landslides that killed at least 48 people. Dozens are still missing.
While climate change is making such extreme rainfall more common, Brazil’s vulnerability to such disasters is the result of years of government neglect. In the case of São Paulo’s north coast, low-income and luxury homes have been built on risky and unstable slopes in beach towns for decades, with little government oversight.
The beach cities in question did not even have landslide alarm systems.
So the question is, if these tragedies happen every year in Brazilian cities, why can’t we prevent them?
Well, preventing disasters has its price. Yet the Jair Bolsonaro government has left little money for disaster prevention works. According to the Planning Ministry, the Bolsonaro administration budgeted only BRL 672 million (USD 130 million) for prevention works for the entire year, an amount that was increased to BRL 1.17 billion after Lula won the election in October. Still, this is the smallest total for the area in 14 years.
Over the weekend, Integration and Regional Development Minister Waldez Góes said that the Bolsonaro government had left just BRL 25,000 (a little under USD 5,000) for disaster response actions.
This is not a time for Brazil to save money. It needs to save lives.