My heart aches to see what is happening in the region of Rio de Janeiro known as the Serra Fluminense. I have visited the three cities most severely impacted, Petrópolis, Teresópolis and Nova Friburgo and note that these are relatively prosperous locations and major tourism destinations. They are popular refuges from the summer heat in Rio de Janeiro. Petrópolis was the summer location for the Emperor Dom Pedro II and his former residence is now Brazil's most visited museum. Teresópolis, in addition to its scenic charms is also the location for the Brazilian Football Federation's national training center, Granja Comary and adjacent to a lovely national park with scenic mountain views, Serra dos Órgãos. Nova Friburgo has some of the best preserved portions of the Atlantic Forest in the region.
I believe that this article is largely correct:
For much of its history, Brazil has been blessed like almost no other country of its size to be almost free of such calamities. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, erupting volcanoes — none have proved threats to Brazil.
Until recently, the most costly and best-known disasters were severe droughts, said Margareta Wahlstrom, the assistant secretary general for the United Nations’ International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
“But in the last few years the increasing frequency of floods, high winds and storms has become part of the new normal of Brazil,” she said. “The political choice we have today is to not treat disasters as events that come and go, but decide that you plan for them and realize that they are very costly.”
I can tell you from my experience that rain tends to be very heavy in Brazil this time of year and floods are all too common. I can also tell you that there appears to be little if any effort being made to prepare for the next one, a fact underscored by this from the same article:
The hillside areas around Rio lacked early warning systems or effective community organizations that might have helped residents to wake one another as the rains intensified last Tuesday night, disaster experts and residents said. Most people are believed to have died early Wednesday morning as they slept, when water-loosened earth swept their houses away.
The floods are going to happen. Better preparation for such disasters as well as strictly enforced building codes (these weren't favelas this time) to prevent building in locations prone to mudslides will only help.
I'm truly stunned that the most popular news magazine program in this country would actually do a segment on Latin America that doesn't involve coups, natural disasters, drugs or disease, so I'm generally pleased to see this segment on 60 Minutes focusing on Brazil:
I largely agree with the report regarding the infrastructure and the issue on training workers, but disagree with Eduardo Bueno, the historian/journalist/commentator, who seemed eager to generate old stereotypes about Brazil that seem more rooted in a carioca mentality, than say, one from Parana, Minas Gerais or Sao Paulo (yes, I know Bueno is from Rio Grande do Sul). There are plenty of serious, hardworking, dedictaed Brazilians. Now may very well be their time.
I don't honestly know how much good this will do, but it is lighting a candle in the darkness.
The Belo Monte Dam is a dreadful idea.
Parts of the Amazon region in Brazil, particularly in Amazonas state are suffering from a significant drought:
Brazil has adopted emergency measures to deal with one of the Amazon region's worst droughts in decades.
A state of emergency has been declared in 25 towns as key waterways and rivers are left completely parched, the Amazonas state government said on Saturday.
So far, the severe months-long drought has affected 40,000 people in communities who depend on the South American rainforest for sustenance.
As the article notes, for this region, the consequences are beyond the typical. Most of the Amazon is dependent on navigable waterways to supply essentials and the drought is impacting this as well. Despite the claim by one expert in the article that it's a result of El Nino, I cannot help but believe that deforestation is playing a role here, as it was believed to have played a role in a drought there in 2005; a drought that at the time was the worst in a century.
The other possible impact is on energy. I have railed time and time again against the Brazilian government's love affair with hydroelectric power. A major drought there caused numerous power outages in 2001, and while this drought is not in that same region, there are plans for developing hydroelectric dams in the Amazon region. Apparently no one is remembering the past and is eager to repeat the same mistakes.
The last of the defendants in the Dorothy Stang murder has been sentenced to thirty years in prison. While I'm glad that this has finally happened, here's the more disturbing aspect of all this:
Stang's murder became a symbol of the often-violent conflicts over natural resources in the vast Amazon region.
In the 10 years through 2008, 365 people were murdered in such disputes, according to the Pastoral Land Commission, a watchdog linked to the Roman Catholic church that monitors conflicts over land in Brazil.
I would be interested in knowing how many of these murders have been solved or even if they went to trial. Para is a horribly violent and corrupt state. Dorothy Stang's greatest legacy would be to have justice be anything but newsworthy for being consistent.
Mr. Trend is enthusiastic about Brasilia's 50th anniversary. I, alas, am not. I find the city to be unpleasant, impersonal, even downright Stalinist in its appearance.
It's a place in my mind utterly devoid of charm and a monument to the automobile. It is also a symbol of wasteful spending. There were no roads from the coast to the construction site, so building materials were brought in by helicopter. Even Oscar Niemeyer, the architect who designed the buildings is disappointed with what it has become.
It was wastefully expensive, but I suppose it's one of those places worth visiting once in your life. I have and have little desire to repeat the experience.
Full disclosure: I'm not a fan of James Cameron's films, nor am I a fan of his outsized ego. That being said, I do have a lot more respect for him now:
In the 15 years since he wrote the script for “Avatar,” his epic tale of greed versus nature, Mr. Cameron said, he had become an avid environmentalist. But he said that until his trip to the Brazilian Amazon last month, his advocacy was mostly limited to the environmentally responsible way he tried to live his life: solar and wind energy power his Santa Barbara home, he said, and he and his wife drive hybrid vehicles and do their own organic gardening.
“Avatar” — and its nearly $2.7 billion in global tickets sales — has changed all that, flooding Mr. Cameron with kudos for helping to “emotionalize” environmental issues and pleas to get more involved.
Now, Mr. Cameron said, he has been spurred to action, to speak out against the looming environmental destruction endangering indigenous groups around the world — a cause that is fueling his inner rage and inspiring his work on an “Avatar” sequel.
“Any direct experience that I have with indigenous peoples and their plights may feed into the nature of the story I choose to tell,” he said. “In fact, it almost certainly will.” Referring to his Amazon trip, he added, “It just makes me madder.”
And he is doing this for precisely the right reasons:
The focus is the huge Belo Monte dam planned by the Brazilian government. It would be the third largest in the world, and environmentalists say it would flood hundreds of square miles of the Amazon and dry up a 60-mile stretch of the Xingu River, devastating the indigenous communities that live along it. For years the project was on the shelf, but the government now plans to hold an April 20 auction to award contracts for its construction.
Stopping the dam has become a fresh personal crusade for the director, who came here as indigenous leaders from 13 tribes held a special council to discuss their last-ditch options. It was Mr. Cameron’s first visit to the Amazon, he said, even though he based the fictional planet in “Avatar” on Amazon rain forests. Still, he found the real-life similarities to the themes in his movie undeniable.
The dam is a “quintessential example of the type of thing we are showing in ‘Avatar’ — the collision of a technological civilization’s vision for progress at the expense of the natural world and the cultures of the indigenous people that live there,” he said.
I have written about this before, but Brazil maintains a dangerous reliance on hydroelectric power. Aside from the harm cited in the article, it has made the nation vulnerable to blackouts, especially when droughts occur. Lula has a bad environmental record and I applaud Cameron for using his fame to do something about Belo Monte.
Yet again Brazil pays a heavy price for the overreliance on hydroelectric power:
An important hydroelectric dam shared by Brazil and Paraguay failed Tuesday night, pushing a large swath of central and southern Brazil into darkness, said the country's minister of mines and energy, Edison Lobao.
At about 10:30 p.m. (7:30 p.m. ET), the Itaipu dam shut down completely, Lobao said in a radio interview.
Itaipu is the second largest hydroelectric facility in the world and the power lost was equivalent to losing all power in the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil's most populous state. Yet Lula still is betting the house on more dams, including some in environmentally sensitive areas.
A severe drought in 1999 caused blackouts in Brazil. The way to avoid this in the future is to have a variety of energy sources, but no one seems that interested in Brazil; just sticking with the conventional sources. Expect more of this.
Brazil's Environment Minister has developed a plan to keep sugar cane plantations out of the Amazon and Pantanal:
The proposal, which must be passed by Congress, comes amid concerns that Brazil's developing biofuels industry is increasing Amazon deforestation.
Environment Minister Carlos Minc said the measures would mean ethanol made from sugar cane would be "100% green".
The government agenda is becoming more environmentally friendly ahead of the 2010 presidential poll, analysts say.
The plans unveiled by Mr Minc would limit sugar cane plantations to 7.5% of Brazilian territory or 64m hectares, and prevent the clearing of new land for the crop.
I could care less if this is being done in advance of an election as long as it's done. The major problem with Brazil, however, is enforcement and I'm frankly, less than optimistic about it.