The historical drought affecting Amazonas state isolated residents, leaving them without water, food, medical care and education. However, just two years ago, the same Amazonian basin faced the opposite drama: a record flood, which affected whole neighborhoods and communities. In 2010, the climate disaster was, once again, an unprecedented drought. It was surpassed only by the current one.
Although the extreme events in Amazonas is not new, none of the state’s 62 cities and towns have prevention plans against climate disasters, found Amazonas Public Ministry of Accounts (MPC-AM, in Portuguese). This year, the agency sent representations to 100% of Amazonas municipalities for failure to combat climate emergencies.
“A lot could have been done based on science to prevent such a suffering,” said Ruy Marcelo Alencar de Mendonça, an attorney for the MPC-AM. “To remove isolated communities in advance, provide people with provisions to prevent a shortage of food and other products, and dredging of rivers in a planned way,” he listed as examples.
The main fragility found by MPC-AM is the city defense agencies, which present a “precarious structure”, according to the attorney. He also said there is a lack of “disaster risk management systematization capable of anticipating events.”
When the subject is climate disasters, it is better safe than sorry, both from the point of view of human lives and material losses and regarding the public budget.
“These are structural measures that demand a long time of planning in advance for climate events. It’s precisely this omission we condemn,” said Alencar de Mendonça.
Brasil de Fato questioned the Amazon Association of Municipalities, but to no avail.
“There should have been advance planning,” says a riverside woman affected by the drought
In the riverside community of Boca Mamirauá, in the city of Uarini (Amazonas state), about 120 residents were surprised by the extreme drought. They live almost exclusively from fishing and agriculture, both activities affected by the situation.
“We have no water, the sun is burning our skin, and there is a risk of having a fever or diarrhea,” says Ruth Martins, a resident of Boca do Mamirauá. In the Mamirauá Lake, near Ruth’s community, over 140 Amazon River dolphins died after the water temperature surpassed 40 degrees Celsius.
Unlike the general population, politicians and local public managers would have an obligation to know about the phenomenon in advance, as it was predicted by meteorologists at least six months ago.
“I think there should have been advance planning,” says Ruth.
“Our government could have planned year after year. The representatives of our municipality should bring everyone together, make a proposal for prevention, talk about a way for the community to guarantee their food, and have a specific date to have this food," suggested the riverside leader.
“When it isn’t the flood, it's the drought [affecting them]. So, I think there should be an action plan,” says the resident of Boca Mamirauá.
Lack of a "prevention culture”
To the MPC, the scenario shows the lack of a “prevention culture”, which is a reality all over Brazil, but with more emphasis in the Amazonas.
Another factor worsening the drought in the cities of the country’s northern region is a geographical factor. The Legal Amazon occupies 60% of the Brazilian territories, but concentrates only on about 770 cities and towns – Brazil has over 5,5 cities.
The city of Barcelos, Amazonas state, one of the most affected by this year’s drought, is as large as Ceará state.
The size of Amazonian cities associated with the lack of resources in city halls and the frequent insufficient number of civil servants means that public policies reach a limited part of the territories.
Besides deforestation, the population must be considered
While the world’s concern about deforestation in the Amazon grows, researchers warn of the need for emergency measures to guarantee a dignified life for the population.
The Iyaleta Research Association, which follows the execution of public policies in Amazon, warns that most of the 630,000 people affected by the drought this year in Amazonas state are Indigenous, Black, poor and living in poor areas, forced to live without piped water, basic sanitation and precarious housing.
“These people who are vulnerable to climate should be the object of concern for municipal governments, not just the federal or state governments,” says Diosmar Filho, a geographer and researcher at Iyaleta, who warns: "Before they are climate vulnerable, they suffer the effects of social inequality".
In addition to structuring municipal civil defenses, Iyaleta also defends recovering deforested areas along urban and rural rivers. In addition to contributing to climate change, this deforestation contributes to devastating floods in medium and large cities during periods of intense rain.
"How can we have so many resources to monitor every tree that falls in the Amazon? How can the global agenda be so concerned about it, but people continue living under such conditions in cities?,” says Diosmar Filho, from Iyaleta.
"For a country that intends to end deforestation and hold the COP in Belém, if this reality [of the Amazonian populations] is not the starting point, what we are doing is just expert talk, and not projecting something that actually needs to be done,” he believes.
Edited by: Nadini Lopes e Thalita Pires