Friday, April 9, 2010

The story behind the mudslides

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil has seen torrential rains over the past couple of days that have led to mudslides on the outskirts of the city. Now, this wouldn't seem like that big a deal were it not for the estimated 200 dead people. The death toll is projected to rise even further as rains continue to fall on Rio de Janeiro.

[Remains of a favela destroyed by the mudslides: Reuters]

These people were not the victims of a small town that happened to be in the way of the mudslides. These people were residences of Rio de Janeiro's favelas. The favelas are towns of poor and marginalized peoples that have sprouted up around Brazil's major cities. Large amounts of Brazil's rural peoples have moved to the cities in order to find work. When they arrive at the cities they are confronted with expensive housing and minimal opportunities for well paying work. The favelas are the manifestations of Brazil's inequalities: 10% of Brazil's population controls over 50% of the wealth in the country and almost 35% of the population lives under the Global Poverty Line of USD $2 a day.

Along with the mudslides Rio de Janeiro has seen extensive flooding in the city and in the favelas. 11,000 people have been forced to evacuate, President Lula da Silva has sent in federal troops to assist in rescue efforts and many essential city services have been canceled.

This tragedy can't be viewed as an isolated case of bad weather. The combination of the worst rains southern Brazil has seen in over 50 years, combined with the poorly built, poverty stricken, towns of marginalized peoples built along unstable cliffs and hills has lead to this tragedy. Some attribute Brazil's worsening rainy season with climate change. However, Brazil's favelas can only be confronted by answering the income and land ownership gaps in the country. This is the sad story beneath the sad story in Brazil.


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