Monday, April 12, 2010

The Floods of Easter

Currently, there are some 200 dead, with perhaps hundreds more missing, as mudslides continue throughout the City and State of Rio de Janeiro.

Most of the 50,000 people who are currently homeless live in poorly constructed slum housing built on or near mountainsides. They are part of the 1.5 million poor who live in favelas, which comprise 20 percent of the City’s population.

The rains came Monday afternoon, April 5, following a sultry, quiet Easter Sunday with 90 percent humidity. For the next 24 hours the biggest rainfall in the past 25 years was recorded.

Up to this point the city’s plan worked well enough to divert the water during recent storms. Unseen, however, was the shoddy new modern construction that had over-taxed a fundamentally weak city infrastructure, originally built early in the last century.

Hidden underneath the surface of roads and sewers already strained to their limits were whole sections of land built on landfill comprising garbage dumps and crumbling concrete. On the hills, the problems were magnified by massive deforestation by people living in the favelas.When the mud flowed it took homes and people with it.

While the government points to its achievements featuring elegant modern buildings being constructed in the city proper and to the rapid expansion in the middle-class suburbs, next to nothing has been done about the long-standing problems of housing for the city’s poorest.

This coming October, voters – including people living in the favelas – will go to the polls to elect a new president and new leaders, each of whom is busily promoting their recent achievements in bringing the World Cup and Olympic Games to Rio, along with developing new off-shore oil.

The politicians boast they will have some $7 billion to create a city worthy of hosting the Cup and the Games.

Little mention has been made about how much will be spent for building new housing for the homeless.

The rains continue to fall on the poor and the rich, alike.

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