Earlier this week, São Paulo was in complete chaos. Over a dozen people died because of the rain and subsequent flooding of the city. Now Rio de Janeiro has suffered more rain in one day than normally falls in the whole of January and the city has seen over 300 people killed, mainly in mudslides.
It’s an absolute tragedy, but how can so many hundreds of people die all in a day just because of the rain?
Well, most of the people who died in mudslides were not living in the expensive apartments lining Copacabana beach, they were in the mountain towns outside the city. But mountain towns would expect mudslides when heavy rains come, and this area of Brazil usually gets heavy rains around the new year.
So even though these rains are heavier than usual, how can so many people have died in a single day? One of the answers may lie in greater control over planning permission, controlling who can construct homes and where to a greater degree. If planning is left to be just a bit of a free-for-all, once you get away from the major city centres, and building without controls takes place in remote areas with a strong risk of flooding, then these tragedies will be the end result.
But if the government starts cracking down on planning and control over land and building works, then what would happen to the favelas that surround Rio or remote mountain towns where regulations are only lightly applied? Those people didn’t ask permission to erect a shack on the side of a mountain, and they almost certainly don’t pay tax to the federal government, yet the authorities get called in to save them when rain causes their homes to collapse.
It’s a Catch-22 situation. Some people are too poor to engage in the controlled and authorised market for property, yet building without controls leads to this kind of disaster.
The answer lies in greater control of building in flood-prone areas, but that also requires some support and compassion from the government. Social housing programmes that offer cheap, but safe living conditions are needed, but how?