It has now passed 160 the number of deaths in the state of Rio de Janeiro caused by the rains that began late Monday, April 5. Metropolitan geographic factors have played a very large role in this tragedy.
Rio’s favelas, ghettos and shantytowns are perched precariously on mountainsides that can absorb a limited amount of moisture. Once saturated, the whole or part of the mountainside slides away, downward.
Besides the dead, hundreds have been injured, thousands left homeless. Last night there was a terrible mudslide in Niterói, in a place known as Morro (hill) do Bumba (in a neighborhood called Viçoso Jardim). Over 30 homes were buried.
In an interview on the Revista Brasil program on Radio Nacional, an EBC broadcaster, the former president of Brazil’s Federal Council of Engineering, Architecture and Agronomy, and member of the PanAmerican Academy of Engineering, Walter Lang, declared that it is time for Brazil to recognize that heavy rainfall is a natural component of the country’s environment, like earthquakes are in other regions, and deal with it correctly.
“This is a national issue, not just a Rio problem. And there is an engineering solution. You have to make the right investments beforehand, so you protect life and don’t have to cry for the dead later,” said Lang.
He explained that there were three things that had to be done: first, ensure that people have safe shelter, which means that building on mountainsides has to be prohibited.
Second, ensure that in places like Rio where there is heavy rainfall, the water can drain away, which means people have to realize how important it is to keep the city clean so storm sewers are not blocked with rubbish.
Third, there has to be an efficient warning system based on first class meteorological information, which means the weather forecast has to be much more than just rain or shine.
Meanwhile, Francis Bogossian, who is presently the president of the Engineering Club, declared that preventive action can make a big difference. “Drainage systems are cheap,” Bogossian says, “but they have to be part of a global solution.”
And like engineer Lang, he says the government has to invest and people have to keep the city clean, especially the lower parts, so water can flow away freely.
“This is not something you can resolve in a year or two. It is a big problem that will take time and a lot of money.” As for the rains that hit Rio this week, Bogossian said it was “an exceptional problem” and that there was no cause to be looking for someone to blame for the tragedy.