In recent days, Rio Grande do Sul state has faced a serious climate crisis marked by an extratropical cyclone that devastated some areas. The event is already considered the worst climate disaster in the state’s history with socio-environmental damage affecting several cities and towns and causing direct impacts on the lives of thousands of people.
The consequences extended to a larger number of municipalities, rising from 88 to 93. Currently, there are 4,794 homeless people, as well as 20,490 displaced people. Furthermore, the total number of people affected rose from 160,313 to 340,918. As for the injured, their number increased from 452 to 924. The number of confirmed deaths to date has risen to 46.
This recent episode resulted from the third extratropical cyclone in the region in the last three months. Experts point out that these extreme weather events are related to the El Niño phenomenon and its ramifications, such as the warming of the Pacific Ocean, which triggers climate crises throughout Latin America.
There are political and economic factors that worsen the situation. Among the issues mentioned are the weakening of environmental protection agencies, hasty approval of a controversial state environmental code to serve political interests, degradation of the pampas biome and the Atlantic forest, and recent cuts in the civil defense budget.
Furthermore, authorities’ unpreparedness and inadequate response contributed to the scale of the disaster. Scientific and meteorological alerts issued warnings about the intensity of the rains and the risk of flooding. However, preventative measures were not effectively implemented, resulting in serious omissions on the part of public authorities. There were at least five days of prior alerts, highlighting flaws in the alert and response system.
Another aspect to be considered is the impact of agribusiness for exportation in the Antas-Taquari River basin, where the destruction of riparian forests and changes in vegetation to plant pine and soybeans had significant consequences. The privatization of the watercourse to hydroelectric companies also raises questions about their possible responsibility for floods, particularly when they opened the hydroelectric power plant dams’ floodgates without prior warning.
In response to this tragedy, civil society has shown solidarity and support for the families affected by the floods, with initiatives such as clothes and food donations and the setting up of solidarity kitchens. However, to prevent these events from happening again, urgent measures are needed. They include government support for projects that allow families to rebuild their lives sustainably, as well as long-term public policies that promote an ecological transition.
In this context, organized civil society awaits the declaration of a State of Climate Emergency in Rio Grande do Sul. It goes beyond a symbolic gesture. It is a call to action to confront the severity of the environmental crisis and take deep and transformative actions.
Furthermore, the national, state and city administrations must reevaluate their development models, meet the goals of climate change policies and promote equitable representation in decision-making forums, which are capable of strategic planning based on multidisciplinary scientific studies.
Edited by: Nadini Lopes