A Recurring Tragedy in Rio

From Mirada Global,an examination of the perennial floods in the mountains of Rio de Janeiro—and why nothing has been done to prevent them.

The whole of Brazil and even the rest of the world have witnesses the situation that the State of Rio de Janeiro faces due to the rains and the floods that have affected the main cities of the mountainous region....Thousands of newspapers in the country are permanently giving the list of the dead who have been found and it is well over eight hundred. There are hundreds of people who have disappeared and their families are living the indescribable anguish of searching bodies which nobody knows where they are or if they will ever be found.
Together with this, the sadness of those who lost everything that it took a lifetime to build and are left unsheltered: a house, personal objects, home appliances. Everything. The images of the destruction of the houses on the hillsides, the discouragement of the people in the shelters are the depiction of sadness itself.
Victims are buried without a wake and their graves are improvised in the cemeteries of the affected cities, which are insufficient for the number of bodies that must be buried. The macabre parade of people burying their relatives —one or more than one— continues to pass before our eyes aghast with the devastation that the waters of January left behind and still threaten to continued. The search for those who disappeared still continues, but the rain makes the work even harder and delays the work of civil defense personnel and firemen.
But what is most shocking is that when one thinks about this tragedy is that it has become sadly chronic. It comes round every year, like a film that we see over and over and over again. As far back as 1966 245 millimeters of rain poured over the city of Rio de Janeiro in only 24 hours and the landslides in the favelas caused the death of over 140 people. The then governor Negrão de Lima was severely questioned by the population and measures were expected to be taken in the hillsides, the rivers... but it never happened. After that there were others, many other tragedies like that one. But in the last years things seem to be getting worse.


Also available in Spanish.

Tim Reidy


Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Juan Lino
8 years ago
I am not from Brazil but I have friends that are and sadly this situation will probably not change in our lifetime - although we should fight for the change!  There are no easy solutions because the people being affected are not considered worthy of help - there is a long history of conflict between the indigenous and/or poor people and those that are not.  This is why the extreme forms of “Liberation Theology” were seized upon in South America.
Gabriel Marcella
8 years ago
The precarious existence of the favelados will only change when they have security, education, and jobs. Some improvement has been noted. Recent governments (Cardoso, Lula, Rousseff) have dramatically reduced poverty via the conditional cash transfer program called the Bolsa Familia. Unfortunately, the growing drug culture is creating more insecurity and corrupts people and institutions. For a compelling account of the social and economic changes in the lives of favelados see Janice Perlman's book: Favela: Four Decades of Living on the Edge in Rio De Janeiro, Oxford U Press, 2010. For a sad commentray on the urban drug culture see the Brazilian movie "City of God" (Cidade de Deus), the name of one of the favelas.


The latest from america

Even in our relationships with family and friends, forgiveness can be hard to come by.
Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Ricardo Ezzati, the archbishop of Santiago, Chile, the Vatican announced on March 23.
Gerard O’ConnellMarch 23, 2019
Sister Bibiana Emenaha
A combination of a rapidly growing population, extreme poverty, unemployment and armed conflict push people to cross Nigeria’s porous borders in search of a better life.
Linus UnahMarch 22, 2019
As we come to grips with a national history of violence, greed and racialized privilege, this fable of noblesse oblige rings hollow.
Brandon SanchezMarch 22, 2019