Warming and uncontrolled urbanism will cause more disasters in Brazil, according to expert
For José Marengo, coordinator of CEMADEN, climate change will continue to impact Brazilian cities
The tragedy with almost a hundred dead due to the torrential rains in northeast Brazil it can be repeated in other parts of the country if prevention policies are not adopted in risk areas, warns a specialist in natural disasters.
José Marengo, research coordinator at the National Center for Monitoring and Alerts for Natural Disasters (CEMADEN), told AFP that climate change will continue to cause increasingly intense rains and assured that “if cities are not prepared, we will cry more dead” .
Is the disaster in the state of Pernambuco associated with climate change?
Climate change is a slow and long-term process. An isolated and extreme event cannot be attributed to this process. Rain and disaster are different things. In Recife it rained heavily in areas close to rivers and hills. Any heavy rain there brings these results, with rivers washing away nearby houses or mudslides sweeping away. Climate change may be responsible for the increase in extreme and violent rains, which are being detected not only in Brazil, but throughout the world. But they cannot be blamed for governments that allow construction in risky areas or that the poor have nowhere to go and must build and live in vulnerable areas. This is an urbanization problem.
What do the heavy rains in Pernambuco have in common with those in Petrópolis, in February, and Bahia, in December, which also claimed lives?
In the case of Bahia, there is a mechanism that produces rains in the summer, which is the South Atlantic Convergence Zone, which from October onwards always operates in southeastern Brazil. In December, the Convergence Zone entered the south of Bahia, an area it normally does not cover, and generated rains and floods that killed 33 people in areas not as densely populated as Recife or Petrópolis. In Petrópolis there was an intense weather event, uncommon, but not impossible, more similar to Recife. Although in both cases the rains had been predicted, the problem was the vulnerability of the population living in the risk areas. When we see videos of landslides and rivers running, we don’t know if they are from Petrópolis or Recife because they were similar disasters.
What can the government do to make Brazil better prepared?
This type of phenomenon has a rain component – which is well forecast in Brazil – but the problem lies on the weakest side of the chain, which is the vulnerability of the population. A common misconception is that ‘rain killed people’, but rain does not kill. It is the combination with people who live in risk areas. Buildings in areas such as hills should be banned and, if there are people in these zones, they should be moved to safer areas every year, not just when there are disasters.
Cities must organize themselves better, as the climatic part already shows that these rainy phenomena like the one in Pernambuco are becoming more intense and violent. If the population and cities are not prepared, we will cry more dead. In the northeast region, the rainy season is just beginning, and more phenomena may come this year.”