Brazil has suffered from numerous devasting mudslides and flash flooding this month, as the death toll rises to 217. Climate experts and meteorologists believe that the source of this influx of flash flooding and landslides has to do with the rapid urbanization in the Rio De Janeiro state, especially areas like the city of Petrópolis, where summer rains are not usually severe, as Al Jazeera reports.
Despite being located almost 3,000 feet above sea level, on February 15, three hours of heavy rain contributed to more than 250 landslides in low-income neighborhoods, BBC News reports. “Rain is the great civilian, but the main cause is poor land use” Antonio Guerra, a geography professor at the Federal University of Rio De Janeiro, told Al Jazeera. “There’s a total lack of planning,”
Mudslides and flash flooding have become common in recent decades throughout the region, including one rain that caused more than 900 deaths. Cláudio Castro, the governor of Rio de Janeiro, told BBC that “The situation is almost like war… Cars hanging from poles, cars overturned, lots of mud and water still.”
Brazil has one of the highest deforestation rates in the world, as 17 percent of the country’s forest areas have already disappeared. Since President Jair Bolsonaro’s inauguration in 2019, the rate of deforestation has reached 92 percent, according to satellite imaging, Time Magazine explains. According to NPR, governmental officials in Petropolis presented a plan in 2017 to mitigate the risks of landslides, including analysis determining that 18 percent of the city’s territory was at high risk for landslides and flooding. However, the impact of this plan has not yet been seen.
The nation of Brazil has a shaky history on the topic of climate change. President Bolsonaro has threatened to withdraw Brazil from the Paris Agreement on climate change, advocated for agriculture and mining explorations, and supported ethanol incentives. However, through the Paris Climate Agreement, President Bolsonaro had promised to eliminate illegal deforestation in the Amazon, and reforest 12 million hectares by the year 2030, reports Foreign Policy. Brazil is a nation filled with biodiversity, yet it is facing the devasting impacts of climate change, resulting in increased landslides, forest fires, and carbon dioxide emissions.
According to The New York Times, Cássia de Castro Martins Ferreira, a researcher of extreme weather events at the Federal University of Juiz de Fora, commented on the rains: “It didn’t rain — it was an extraordinary amount of water that poured down … it is the way that the city has grown. As Petrópolis has expanded, residents have moved into the hills, clearing forests that once acted as a buffer against mudslides and building homes on terrain that is often too steep and unsuitable for development.”
Rapid socio-economic development, along with significant urbanization in mountainous regions in Brazil, has increased the frequency and severity of precipitation and flooding. The direct damage of floods and landslides has a direct impact on human life, along with the tourism business sector of Petrópolis. For one Brazilian citizen who commented to NBC News, “Our city, unfortunately, is finished.”