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More Brazilians die in floods and downpours

Secondlater Torrential rains in the northeastern state of Pernambuco in Brazil killed 130 people in May and early June. Severe flooding inland of Petropolis near Rio de Janeiro killed at least 240 people in February and March. In the first five months of 2022 alone, more people will die from rain than in all of 2021.

The trigger was heavy rainfall caused by some unusual weather patterns. Moacyr Araújo, who coordinates the Brazilian Climate Change Research Network, an academic group, said this year the stream of moist air that usually arrives from the southeast has moved to the northeast. Plus, ocean currents that carry warm water from Africa to South America are stronger than usual, releasing more moisture into the air. In Recife, the capital of Pernambuco state, the two impacts reduced rainfall by 551 millimeters (22 inches) over five days, almost a quarter of the annual average.

Such extreme weather is becoming more frequent as the planet warms. But “it takes more than rain to create disaster,” said José Marengo of Cemaden, the federal agency in charge of disaster alerts. Poorly sited or poorly constructed housing is part of the problem.

Recife is low-lying and densely populated. The city’s poorest lived on the banks of the river and along the canals. In Petropolis, these residents cannot afford expensive housing or pay the 2.5 percent land tax that descendants of Brazil’s last emperor, who was overthrown in 1889, still pay. So they built their houses on steep hillsides that were washed away in mudslides. Some of this year’s victims lived in homes demolished by civil defense personnel after a similar disaster 11 years ago.

Cmaden is also strapped for cash. Before Brazil fell into recession in 2014, it received one-seventh of the cash it received a decade earlier. With no money to install them, the weather monitoring systems sit idle in boxes. Bureaucratic delays don’t help. Mr Marengo said it was frustrating to see officials sit idly by until disaster struck (it was the civil defense agency that relayed the warning) as he worked “desperately” to raise the alarm . Officials in Recife waited two days after receiving the alert from Cemaden before they began drawing up detailed storm contingency plans. Society refers to such tragedies as natural disasters, but they often appear man-made.

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