March rains: a lesson in humility?

Probably not

Few worries

Fallen trees and posts not his fault

If the mayoral election were this week, Eduardo Paes might be sweating.  After a night of torrential rain Tuesday that flooded the city and killed five people, cariocas have it in for him. Neighborhoods lost electricity for as many as 24 hours, commutes turned into pilgrimages, and traffic was chaotic even as late as eleven a.m. the next day. The Maracanã soccer stadium construction site, running behind schedule, was also flooded, postponing a FIFA visit and final delivery. The stadium must be ready for the Confederations Cup, to be held June 15-30 of this year.

“Today would be a good day to get ahold of that Rio version of Monopoly and make [the mayor] swallow all the pieces, don’t you think?” asked one Rio native yesterday, on Facebook.

According to O Globo newspaper, Tuesday saw 70% of the total rain predicted for the month of March, with 50 millimeters coming down in a mere 15 minutes in some parts of the city. That, plus 2,149 bolts of lightning led another resident to comment that perhaps the Mayans got the date wrong.

And a sarcastic joker photoshopped a picture of flooded subway tracks; three stations had to be closed, the night of the storm.

Below, an example of dozens of eyewitness films posted on Facebook and Youtube, illustrating the carioca Doomsday. In this one, the disgusted amateur filmmaker addresses the mayor  directly: “Look at what your public works achieve, look at my street,” he says.

Pick up more trash

An engineer quoted in the O Globo article says the city isn’t doing enough to protect residents against summer rains. Needed actions include the protection of river basins, reduction of hillside housing, improvement in favela trash pickup, repression of illegal sewage flows into rivers and drainage systems, and damming of rivers that start in the Tijuca Massif. According to this source, ongoing reservoir work in Tijuca won’t solve the problem alone, because trash and mud will still flow into them if the other work isn’t carried out.

Also quoted in O Globo, Paes sounded petulant the day after the storm, which caught many residents trying to get home from work, and the Comlurb trash trucks in the midst of their nightly pickup. “Cariocas have to understand that when it rains hard it’s no time to be gallivanting in the streets. Trees and posts fall, which we have no way of controlling. A man died in Camorim when a tree fell. Am I going to have to cut down all the trees in Camorim?” he asked.

In fact the city is responsible for inspecting and caring for trees and posts– and gallivanting isn’t exactly what most people stuck on buses with knee-deep water out the door were up to.

In a more serious tone, the mayor also said the age-old problem of flooding in the Praça da Bandeira with reservoirs and river management works slated for early next year, and that flooding on Avenida Brasil will cease once the Transbrasil dedicated bus lane roadway is completed, in 2016.

The chaos of course bring to mind what’s become a classic comment/question in Rio: imagine na Copa! I.e., with all this, how will Rio deal with the mega-events?

It does tend to rain less in July than in March… meanwhile, the city’s Civil Defense department just published a natural disaster survival guide. Notably, this time around there’s been no news of favela mudslides or loss of housing, which could be due to city education and safety work.

Now, the sun is out

Lucky for Paes, who recently shocked citizens with his purchase of a Rio Olympic City version of Monopoly for public schools, he was reelected last October— in the first round of voting yet, and with a record 64.6% of the vote. Despite the fact that Rio state’s petroleum royalties are at risk again, public and private investment have done much to lift the city out of its long decadence and develop its natural vocation as a tourism and cultural hub. Rio will most likely be one of the last places to feel the impact of the national economic slowdown.

Last year, Paes did get to use the municipal bureaucracy and its policies as a political machine. But, since the economy still is IT (stupid), as a Bill Clinton campaign strategist figured in 1992, the mayor probably won’t sit down and cruise through YouTube to watch the worst of this week’s storm.

Paes is also lucky that the local boom keeps citizens busy and unlikely to hold Tuesday’s storm long in their minds– and that cariocas tend to shrug off difficulty and worry. “Water was pouring into the ceiling of the elevator in my building, which is a good one, with a high condominium fee,” recalls an amazed foreigner who recently moved to Rio. “The doorman told me he was warning everyone who got into it to be careful.” Back home, he adds, the elevator would have been immediately shut down.

Two of the deaths this week were in fact from electrocution, in the street.

Even the most dramatic of developments in Rio– such as forced evictions, which now attract all manner of foreign journalists and photographers– seem to be shrugged off not only by the mayor but even the United Nations. While the activist Comitê Popular da Copa e Olimpíadas Rio looked forward to a report given Mar. 4 by Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living Raquel Rolnik at the United Nations Human Rights Council, an official write-up gave Rio short shrift.

It’s all relative

For many Cariocas, life is truly much better its been in decades. But, as many young people and activists complain, there is so much more to do, and much of what’s being done could be even better if city policymakers and administrators did their work with greater transparency, dialogue and participation.

Mixed-income housing is only incipient in Rio, a city administrator told RioRealblog in January after reading a proposal on the subject, for the port area, prepared by Columbia University graduate students. Local real estate developers, he added, would be more open to the idea if they knew that the policy is applied in the United States and Europe– not just Mexico and Colombia. So far, Rio has developed no incentives for mixed-income housing.

O bom é o inimigo do ótimo, as one says in Portuguese: what’s good is the enemy of what’s best. So in this treacherous climate, the best we can do is watch city (and state) officials closely, and make sure that well-informed conversation and the exchange of ideas happen as much as possible.

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About Rio real

American journalist, writer, editor who's lived in Rio de Janeiro for 20 years.
This entry was posted in Brazil, Transformation of Rio de Janeiro / Transformação do Rio de Janeiro and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to March rains: a lesson in humility?

  1. agogo22 says:

    Reblogged this on msamba.

  2. Barbara Harrington says:

    I think almost every city in the world would have been greatly affected by the volume of rain that fell on Tuesday. What makes it worse?

    1. Totally absence of regular or emergency personnel in the streets, that means, no CET/traffic cops, no Guarda Civil, no nothing.

    2. No response in the private sector. If you, like me, were stuck in a car without any idea of what was going on and turned on the radio — you surfed from station to station and found spectacular coverage on the death of Hugo Chavez and Chorão. Once in a while, they said it was raining hard and that something or the other was broken, blocked, etc. A radio station doesn’t need a lot of reporters, just somebody sitting in front of a computer and monitoring cameras and the feed from Centro de Operações. I really really don’t understand why they were not interested in doing this. A very bad decision from a commercial standpoint — everybody would jump to the station with the best and most up to date information.
    The twitter feed from Centro de Operações or Chuva RJ was better — if you didn’t have a smartphone or 3G you are f –d.

    3. Hideous newspaper reporting. Globo.com didn’t update their coverage between midnight and 8 am! They counted 80 trees down in the city, I count 5 down on my street, along with three holes more than 1 meter wide. This is one street and this is not news apparently.

    It’s true, Cariocas shouldn’t be gallivanting around in the rain, using different language, that’s an absolutely appropriate CIVIL DEFENSE response.

    In Rio CIVIL DEFENSE is an oxymoron.

  3. Rio real says:

    well put, Barbara!! Chaves just took over the minds and hearts of Globo…

  4. I’m in Sao Paulo this week, and just a couple of hours ago, the co-working space where I sit (the-hub) had water pouring through closed windows, pooling on floors around the electrical connections for numerous computers. When I informed the facility, I had the distinct impression this was not the first, or last time this would occur….

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