University of São Paulo: Disasters caused by climate change show a lack of a culture of prevention

In recent days, the city of Petrópolis, in Rio de Janeiro, has suffered from heavy rains and landslides. The tragedy represents yet another case in which climate change drastically affects a part of Brazil. In an interview with Jornal da USP in Ar 1st Edition , professor Pedro Luiz Côrtes, from the School of Communications and Arts (ECA) and the Institute of Energy and Environment (IEE) at USP, analyzes the impacts of the disaster.


In the professor’s view, the tragedy that befell Petrópolis was an announced tragedy: “In 2017, the annual risk reduction plan was released, which pointed out that 18% of the municipality’s area, about 15,000 houses in the central region, was located in risk region. There was a suggestion to carry out a series of works, such as the containment of slopes, dredging of rivers, reforestation of slopes, removal of populations in risk areas and absolutely nothing has been done in the last five years”.

The situation could have been avoided if the authorities had used the data they had at their disposal. But not even emergency actions were taken. “This could have been resolved, especially in relation to the removal of needy populations who live in risk areas. What I usually say is that no one goes to an area at risk because they like it or because they want to, they go for lack of options, so this has to be linked to a housing policy. If the municipality is not able to do this, it has to run after funds to do it, there was time for this, and absolutely nothing was done. The populations continued to live in risky areas and the municipality simply did not create the conditions for these people to leave there”, attests Côrtes.


The impacts are enormous, even more so when preventive measures are not taken. According to the professor: “The culture of prevention is not widespread. We have a very culture of reaction to events, meaning once the tragedy happens, we will try to save the people and liberate the areas.” The scenes seen in the last week are worrying. “Checking the images that are presented, I conclude that it is a worse situation than an earthquake, because in an earthquake it is still possible to find people alive in the rubble a few days later, in this situation it is practically impossible, because the person has no space to breathe” , comments Cortes.A new climate context imposes itself and needs more attention. For the professor, “the authorities need to wake up to this. Climate change is not an assumption, it is already a reality. We are dealing with the consequences; contrary to what the deniers say – that this is an international plot. In fact, the first published scientific studies on climate change related to the increase in greenhouse gases date back to the early 1970s, that is, this topic has been researched for over 50 years and the volume of work has only been growing, effectively demonstrating that this is a reality that imposes itself in a very big way”.

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