March 15, 2022
From News And Letters

From the March-April 2022 issue of News & Letters

If we want to see how climate chaos and inequality are going to play out in the future, Brazil has just given us a reality check. Petrópolis, a city of little more than a quarter of a million that is close to Rio de Janeiro, was hit in February by a huge rainstorm, the heaviest in nearly a century—almost 10 inches in two hours.

“I looked up and my house started shaking,” said 13-year-old Mariana Santiago. “I ran up to my neighbor and you could see the entire mudslide from there, it was like a waterfall.” The house in the Morro da Ofica neighborhood was built on a steep slope in the south of Petrópolis. There were 26 landslides, which killed 176 people, with more than 100 still missing.

The Petrópolis rainstorm was no freak of nature. Rain and landslides are frequent in the mountains of Brazil. Residents in risky areas feel they have little choice in where they can afford to live. They sent a statement explaining that even before this event, there was a shortage of housing going back more than a decade. In 2011 more than 900 people died in the mountain region after landslides. Housing was promised to affected families but none was ever provided.

“The authorities are much more concerned about being re-elected than doing something for the people,” notes geography professor Antonio Guerra, who studies landslides. “There is money but it’s not been spent on improving the lives of residents.” He estimates that as many as 20,000 people in Petrópolis live in areas at risk.

—Eugene Walker