Prevention of climate disasters requires combating poverty and community action

Prevention of climate disasters requires combating poverty and community action

Torrential rains in recent weeks have caused serial damage in several regions of Brazil, such as Espírito Santo, Paraná, Rio de Janeiro, Santa Catarina, Sergipe and the Federal District. The more frequent occurrence of high volumes of precipitation in short periods of time may indicate the effects of climate change, which cause changes in rainfall patterns.

To address these difficulties, experts say infrastructure interventions and emergency protocols need long-term reinforcement, with housing and anti-poverty policies.

In addition, it is necessary to expand the capacity of city halls and community networks, keys to prevention, especially among poorer populations, who need to face the fear of destroying everything they have in order to leave their homes in situations of imminent disaster.

The challenge grows because the population affected by floods and landslides in Brazil could double or even triple in the coming decades, according to the most recent report by the UN climate panel, the IPCC.

Tools for prevention and response have been available for years. Mauricio Ehrlich, professor of geotechnical engineering at Coppe, a UFRJ research center, is one of the authors of a study on one of them, which crossed data on rainfall with data on the risk of landslides.

The basis of this technique is information from Geo Rio, a public company from the city of Rio de Janeiro that started monitoring in 1998. “We did a cross and there is a very reliable correlation in relation to what can be expected depending on how much it rains”, he says. the researcher, for whom the city of Rio has enough information to provide security to the population.

Eduardo Mario Mendiondo, scientific coordinator of Ceped (Center for Disaster Education and Research) at USP, assesses that the country is on the same level as the US, Japan and Europe in terms of sensors and technology for monitoring rainfall and landslides. Brazil falls short, however, in terms of density —the number of devices in the same area, which increases accuracy.

Despite this, says the expert, these countries, in addition to their neighbors in Latin America, have Brazil as a reference in terms of alerts for populations in a scenario of socioeconomic inequality, which requires communication about occupations in risk areas.

What makes Brazil efficient is the model with teams made up of professionals from different areas who assess how to issue alerts.

“Brazil has been doing this well for over ten years because it has an interdisciplinary team. They are meteorologists, engineers, hydrologists, social scientists, who discuss the issuance, the advance and the level of alerts”, says Mendiondo.

He claims that this structure has spread among state agencies since the creation of Cemaden (National Center for Monitoring and Alerts of Natural Disasters), in response to the 900 deaths, in 2011, due to rains in Petrópolis — the city of Rio de Janeiro experienced a new tragedy in February of 2022 and, in the last few days, it has been facing flooding. The body is linked to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation.

For Mendiondo, however, there is a lack of political will to reinforce investments in bodies linked to the area and also in educating the population, which is an important gap in risk management in the country.

“This generation needs to understand how to manage disaster risk in a more pedagogical way, starting in elementary school. Otherwise, we are fated to invest in technology and operations, but the population will continue in the same way because they don’t know how to live with risk”, he says. “In Japan, for example, there are pilot projects in which it is intended that the decision to evacuate [o imóvel] be of the citizen.”

Furthermore, the occupation of risk areas is not a new problem in Brazil, as well as basic sanitation, solid waste management and urban planning as a whole.

“You have to guide the growth [das cidades]🇧🇷 The population occupies certain places because they live far away, it’s difficult to get to work, so they prefer to live close, even if barely. This is a question of transport and housing, for example”, says Ehrlich.

According to Maria do Carmo Sobral, professor at the civil and environmental engineering department at UFPE (Federal University of Pernambuco), the overlapping of risks requires more robust policies, because cities today form environments that are not very permeable and have drainage and soil recharge systems. overwhelmed by garbage and untreated sewage.

“If we ask ourselves ‘how did we get here’, we have a large population living in hill areas, river banks and public areas. People are afraid to leave their homes because of looting. We need to improve living conditions, that’s the job of the federal, state and municipal governments”, he says.

“It is necessary to control the use of the land, but to provide an alternative. It is not simply removing. Where are these people going to live? This is integrated work and is very costly.”

For her, COP27, the UN conference on climate change held in November, brought funding opportunities with the creation of a loss and damage fund to help vulnerable countries face the impacts of climate change.

“With President-elect Lula [PT]the world is waiting for Brazil to have a different attitude towards climate change and particularly towards deforestation and fires, not just in the Amazon, but in the whole country”, says Sobral.

Cemaden plans to expand campaigns with NGOs, schools and local civil defense. “All instances have their responsibilities, but the population can preserve itself with campaigns and instructions from the Civil Defense, observe cracks in the wall or earth movements and the inclination of trees”, says Regina Alvalá, coordinator of institutional relations.

While the number of deaths from disasters has increased, reaching 494 by June this year, the resource to combat them has registered declines in the last decade, according to the center. The amount approved for 2022, of BRL 1.2 billion, is 81.5% lower than the amount allocated in 2013, of BRL 11.6 billion (in values ​​adjusted for inflation).

For José Marengo, who coordinates research being carried out at Cemaden, policies need to overcome the cycles of government mandates, since the main challenges are the continued training of agents and the maintenance of networks between communities and city halls.

“The government changes, the mayor, the head of Civil Defense and we need to train again, but then the rains have already started. And the worst ones come in January and February”, he says, adding that climate change will make these problems more and more complex. .

“We have the population increase and the scenarios of [temperatura do planeta] 1°C or 1.5°C warmer.”

The Planeta em Transe project is supported by the Open Society Foundations.

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