O Globo reports that last April’s mudslides in the city of Rio de Janeiro led to preventive action that will benefit residents of high risk areas. The first to feel the impact will be the Morro do Borel favela, in Tijuca, where sirens will be installed. Borel community agents have been trained and are fitted out with cellular phones ready to receive emergency messages from the municipal civil defense agency.
This news is not the result of last week’s tragedy up in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro state, but of rains that punished the capital and the city of Niterói, across the bay, last April.
“We had three deaths and 90 families made homeless by the April 2010 rains in this community,” Borel neighborhood association president Roberta Ferreira told O Globo. “We’re going to try to avoid this.”
Since that disaster, which brought Rio to a standstill for a day, the city has purchased and installed adequate radar equipment, and has spent the equivalent of US$ 176 million (part of which were federal funds) to clean muddied rivers and canals, undertake civil engineering work on hillsides, install 7 hydrological stations, and complete geotechnical mapping which identified 18,000 homes in high risk areas, in 117 of the city’s favelas. According to mayor Eduardo Paes, 5,500 families have been removed from high risk locations, 3,100 of whom have already received new homes. The balance are reportedly receiving rent supplements or have received payment for lost housing. Paes added that this year the federal Minha Casa Minha Vida program will produce 12,000 housing units, which he hopes to use for residents of high-risk housing.
Sixty sirens will be installed city-wide in coming weeks, 1,875 community agents have been trained, and 300 community leaders have been given cellular emergency phones and maps of local high-risk areas. IBM is developing weather forecasting software that, among other measures, should allow the city to lower the level of the Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas to prevent chronic flooding of the contiguous bike path and roadway.
The Brazilian press and the internet are full of opinion pieces on the causes and effects of the tragedy in the state’s mountain region, Brazil’s worst natural disaster (and reportedly one of the world’s ten worst in the last 111 years) ever, which has so far racked up over 700 deaths, more than 200 missing and over 21,500 homeless. Most observers agree that short-sighted politicians should not have allowed the construction of homes on hillside areas, which led to deforestation that helped cause the mudslides. Some say that mudslides occurred even in uninhabited areas, claiming that earth covered by vegetation simply couldn’t absorb such unusually heavy rainfall. Press reports indicate that no matter the cause, the response at all levels of government and on the part of thousands of volunteers has been particularly impressive. For the last week vice-governor Luiz Fernando Pezão has been coordinating efforts on site to aid victims, with support from the federal government, which has begun work on a national civil defense program. According to Science and Technology Minister Aloizio Mercadante, 5 million Brazilians live in areas that are at risk for natural disasters.
Here is information in English about how to help the mudslide victims in Rio de Janeiro state.