Rain Becomes Synonymous With Fear Amid Absence of Climate Action, Say #VoicesFromSocialMedia

Collapsed house in Nilópolis on the banks of the Sarapuí River. Photo: Press Release / Nilópolis City Hall
Collapsed house in Nilópolis on the banks of the Sarapuí River. Photo: Press Release / Nilópolis City Hall

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This article is part of RioOnWatch’s ongoing #VoicesFromSocialMedia series, which compiles perspectives posted on social media by favela residents and activists about events and societal themes that arise.

Above-average temperatures, increasingly catastrophic storms. Socio-environmental injustice and its effects disproportionately affect the favelas, laying bare environmental racism, State negligence, and the absence of public policies that address climate change, especially in the favelas, with the urgency needed. These are chronic problems: every summer brings floods, landslides, displaced, missing, and deaths. And the main culprit for all this is not the weather, nor climate change, but the Brazilian State and its structural inertia regarding the protection of life in the favelas.

The storm alert with rainfall ranging from 300-500mm issued by Rio de Janeiro authorities last week created an atmosphere of apprehension among the population. The forecast of heavy rain brought back traumas and awakened fears that have become routine in recent decades. Unfortunately, this fear materialized, and the population of Rio de Janeiro once again found itself powerless against a State whose only environmental policy for favelas is necropolitics.

As increasingly common, the Greater Rio area, its Baixada Fluminense region, and the Região Serrana—the state’s mountainous region—suffered enormously from the rains. According to the state government’s monitoring dashboard between March 22 and 25, Petrópolis [a city in the Região Serrana] recorded 391.8mm of rain, Maricá 224mm, and the city of Rio 223.6mm. However, the situation is no less serious in the northwest and northern regions of the state, where four of the main rivers overflowed, putting the lives of millions of residents at risk. In total, nine people died, and nearly 600 are displaced in the state of Rio de Janeiro. Once again, social media was used by citizens and collectives to assist and organize, disseminate information about what happened, and demand solutions.

Double the Water

In addition to the alert issued on Friday (March 22), both Rio de Janeiro City Hall and the state government declared an optional day off and suspended classes in public schools. However, according to Governor Cláudio Castro, the greatest concern was for the municipalities of Petrópolis and Magé, which were classified by meteorologists as at very high risk of flooding and landslides.

The city of Petrópolis experienced twice the rain as forecasted. In just four hours, 125mm of rain fell, when only 51mm were expected.

In addition to the floods, there were several landslides that destroyed homes and killed four people buried under the debris. Between Thursday (21) and Saturday (23), a total of 238 landslides were counted. In light of this new wave of devastation caused by the rains last weekend, civil society groups organized to welcome donations for distribution.

It is worth remembering that in 2022, Petrópolis experienced the biggest climate tragedy in its history, with 234 people dead and 4,000 left homeless. One year after this sad episode (2023), the authorities of the mountainous region municipality had spent only 15% of the approved budget for housing projects and preventive actions in the risk areas mapped in the city.

Like Rio state’s mountainous region, Greater Rio municipality’s Baixada Fluminense is historically greatly affected by heavy rains. Therefore, the municipalities in the region also opted for caution, suspended activities, and recommended citizens stay home during the storms.

One of the hardest-hit areas in the last major rainfall, at the end of January 2024, Nova Iguaçu fortunately did not record any deaths this time, despite the heavy rain.

However, despite there being no deaths, many streets and houses were flooded amid the storm.

At the border between the cities of Nilópolis and Mesquita, between the neighborhoods of Nossa Senhora de Fátima and Chatuba, on the banks of the Sarapuí River, a house collapsed, leaving three people injured. One of them died in the hospital hours after being rescued. App delivery worker and advisor to the Rio de Janeiro State Legislative Assembly (ALERJ) Human Rights Commission, Saulo Benicio, reported the incident on social media.

In Belford Roxo, another city in the Baixada Fluminense, the wind was so strong that the aluminum roof of a house was torn off and thrown over the wiring.

In Duque de Caxias, neighborhoods that were submerged in the last major storm two months ago, found themselves once again underwater. This was the situation for the residents of Vila Urussaí, located in the district of Saracuruna.

In Complexo da Mangueirinha, the largest cluster of favelas in the Baixada Fluminense, residents had to be rescued by the fire department in boats, and there are reports of several people left displaced in the community due to the floods.

North and Northwest of the State

In the north and northwest of the state of Rio de Janeiro, the rains caused the main rivers in the region—the Itabapoana, Muriaé, and São Pedro—to overflow.

The city of Macaé recorded 150mm of water in the urban area and 380mm in its mountainous region, more than expected for the entire month.

In another post, the same page published footage recorded by a resident of Frade, in the mountainous region of Macaé, of the moment when a bridge is submerged by the local river. The resident recording the video reported hearing rocks being dragged by the force of the storm waters.

The overflowing of rivers in the mountains caused the cities along their banks to experience floods. This is what happened in several areas of Campos dos Goytacazes.

The same happened in Itaperuna, where it was impossible to see the streets of the Raposo district, since roads turned into rivers.

Organizations Demand Measures

In response to the extreme rainfall warning issued by the National Institute of Meteorology (INMET), 35 organizations and collectives filed an official recommendation on the same day as the announcement, proposing five emergency actions to the authorities of Rio de Janeiro. Among the organizations involved is Casa Fluminense, which advocates for equality and the strengthening of democracy in Greater Rio.

“It is a cry for help from our favelas, neighborhoods, and cities in Rio de Janeiro, which are organizing in search of solutions in light of the weather forecast for the weekend.” — Larissa Amorim, Director of Casa Fluminense

The five immediate actions demanded are:

  1. Cancel classes in educational institutions in affected areas and adopt hybrid or remote work for employees living in high-risk areas, urging the private sector to take the same measure;
  2. Provide transportation to shelter locations;
  3. Use government and television/radio broadcasting channels to alert the population of risks and provide guidance on what to do in case of a disaster;
  4. Establish a crisis management committee to monitor the impacts of the rains with the participation of civil society;
  5. Strengthen the actions, structure, and personnel of the Civil Defense during the alert period (making available the Fire Department, Military Police, and Civil Police to support relief operations for the population).

Of these, only two measures were implemented: the optional day off and the extensive use of public and private communication channels to communicate the destructive potential of the rain and to urge people to stay at home or in safe locations. Despite being simple and cost-effective, the other solutions have not been put into practice by the State. It is important to understand that there is a budget for preventive measures, but the lack of political will from the authorities, stemming from environmental racism towards favelas, is the main cause of the socio-environmental tragedies that victimize hundreds of thousands of Brazilians every year during the summer.

About the author: Euro Mascarenhas Filho is a grassroots journalist, contributor to the Paratininga Communications Center, and the creator of the Antena Aberta podcast. 

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