'The River Just Wants to Pass Through': documentary shows the point of view of those affected by the floods in Brazil

The film shows views of Indigenous people, quilombolas, settlers, and urban dwellers on the state's biggest catastrophe

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
Tractor overturned: agrarian reform settler asks for debt forgiveness in Brasil de Fato documentary - Vitor Shimomura/Brasil de Fato

Brasil de Fato launched the documentary The River Just Wants to Pass Through: Climate Tragedy in Rio Grande do Sul in June. The video is available on BdF's YouTube channel.   

The film portrays the social impact of extreme floods in Rio Grande do Sul, based on the testimonies of urban dwellers, land reform settlers, Indigenous people, and quilombolas. 

Rio Grande do Sul is one of the Brazilian states located in the country's southern region. It borders the state of Santa Catarina to the north, Argentina to the west, and Uruguay to the south. In addition, the Atlantic Ocean lies to the east. The state is divided into 497 municipalities and has a total area of 281,730.223 km², representing around 3.3% of Brazil's surface area. Its capital is Porto Alegre, which has around 10.88 million inhabitants. 

Floods began to affect the state on April 27 after heavy rains in the Vales region. These rains overwhelmed the Taquari, Caí, Pardo, Jacuí, Sinos, and Gravataí river basins, overflowing and flooding several towns. The water also reached Guaíba, in Porto Alegre, and Lagoa dos Patos, in Pelotas and Rio Grande. 

To produce the documentary, Brasil de Fato traveled for a week to the regions most devastated by the extreme floods of May 2024: Porto Alegre and the Taquari Valley.  

"Although very hard to hear, the reports we collected show those affected are not just affected. They also have a lot to say about solutions to the climate issue. What moved us most was the popular solidarity of those who lost everything," said Murilo Pajolla, a BdF reporter who worked on the film.    

The documentary The River Just Wants to Pass Through: Climate Tragedy in Rio Grande do Sul features reporting by Murilo Pajolla and Vitor Shimomura and editing and photography by Vitor Shimomura.  

A victim's words inspired the film's title  

The documentary's most devastating scene is in Arroio do Meio, in the Taquari River basin, 120 kilometers from Porto Alegre. The town looks like it's been hit by a bombing raid.  

"The river just wants to pass through," said Fabrício Henrique in Arroio do Meio amid the rubble of his house. With the tragedy, the machine operator gave up on raising his son in the neighborhood where he grew up, bathed by the Taquari. "As long as we have progress, we will have floods," he said.   

In Eldorado do Sul, in the Porto Alegre region, the report found a town 100% submerged. A resident criticized the lack of prevention of climate disasters. "The minimal state has removed environmental protection from the rivers that have flooded," said Álvaro Azevedo, who was knee-deep in water.  

The scenario is one of destruction in the settlements of the Landless Rural Workers' Movement (MST), which supply the largest organic rice production in Latin America.  Popular agrarian reform settlers are counting the losses and asking the federal government for measures to make recovery possible, such as resettlement away from risk areas or forgiveness of debts incurred to finance the harvest.  

Impact on Indigenous people and quilombolas 

"Our ancestors say it's going to continue like this [with floods]; neither white nor indigenous will escape," said chief Roberto Gimenes of the Guarani Mbya people. That's why the tekoha Pindó Poty of the Guarani Mbya people urgently needs to be demarcated. It's the only way the Indigenous people will finally be able to live in a dry area currently occupied by farmers, he says. 

In the urban quilombo Areal da Baronesa, in Porto Alegre, a resident recalls that her grandmother was affected by the 1941 floods, which were until then the biggest in Rio Grande do Sul territory. "Now it's my turn," she said with resignation. 

Historic disaster   

In May this year, extreme floods affected 2.3 million people in Rio Grande do Sul. More than 600,000 had to leave their homes. According to the Civil Defense, 77,000 residents were rescued, and 95% of Rio Grande do Sul's municipalities were affected. The death toll had reached 178.   

In Porto Alegre, the Guaíba River hit a record high of 5.3 meters and affected 242,000 homes in the Porto Alegre Metropolitan Region, according to the National Water Agency (ANA, in Portuguese) and the Rio Grande do Sul Civil Defense. The level surpassed the highest flood recorded in 1941 when the Guaíba hit 4.7 meters.  

The Taquari River, which runs through the Vales region, exceeded flood level and reached 31.2 meters, the highest level in history, according to the Geological Survey of Brazil (SGB, in Portuguese).   

Eldorado do Sul was the city most affected in the Porto Alegre region. The Jacuí River submerged 100% of the municipality. According to the city hall, 32,000 of the 40,000 inhabitants were forced to leave their homes. 


Watch the documentary 

Edited by: Thalita Pires