São as águas de março,
fechando o verão ...
One thing I did know before moving to Brazil was the Tom Jobim song, Aguas de Março, the Waters of March, so I was expecting March to be the rainy month. Not so. Rains don't just mark the end of summer, as the song says. They mark summer's beginning as well. Year in, year out, there are heavy, tropical downpours in December and January, and the new climate phenomenon, La Niña, has, if anything, made matters worse. You'd think that, after last year's disaster, the civil defense authorities would have gotten themselves prepared for this year's rains. But whatever measures they did take have turned out to be totally inadequate.
Last year's rains, which peaked just one year ago, constituted the worst civil disaster in Brazil's history. A total of 918 people died, 30,000 or more lost their homes, and 215 are still considered missing. In other words, their bodies have never been recovered. The worst of the suffering took place not in some remote region of the Amazon but in the gorgeous Rio de Janeiro State mountain towns of Nova Friburgo, Teresópolis and Petrópolis that, if our binoculars were more powerful, we could practically see out our window. By car, you can reach the closest of these towns in an hour and a half, and Mark and I have always enjoyed visiting those towns. We have friends up there in the mountains.
We watched last year's disaster unfold on television, and saw unbelievable acts of courage and heroism as neighbors helped neighbors, such as in the spine-tingling rescue in the video above. (Incredible how everything is filmed nowadays, even a catastrophe that caught everyone off guard.) But as I read today's O Globo I want to strangle someone. I want to scream, enough is enough. Why has so little been accomplished in one entire year? Why are so many people up there in the mountains still struggling to get their lives back in order? The paper today has been reminding us that the mayors, town councilmen and businessmen of these mountain towns stole the government's generous emergency funds in an unprecedented spectacle of fraud and profiteering. Even in Brazil, where corruption is so much a part of governing that people no longer pay attention to it, this disgusting revelation has shocked. The government is demanding the return of its 10 million reais, and I'm delighted to say the government's also been freezing the assets of the sleazeballs involved.
Last year's disaster, but these pictures were just taken for today's paper. Disgraceful.
We have also been hearing these last days that, in an astounding display of arrogant political piggishness, 90% of the government's emergency anti-flood funds for this year have been diverted to just one state, Pernambuco (a state generally plagued by drought) which also happens to be the home state of the minister charged with distributing the monies. This goes a long way to explaining why state civil defense authorities weren't prepared for the floods and landslides happening right now in southeastern Brazil. The worst of the current catastrophe is in the state of Minas Gerais, where 99 cities are in a state of emergency, and about 12,000 people have lost their homes. The final disposition of the monies sent to Pernambuco is, believe it or not, in limbo. The government wants it back. Pernambuco wants to keep it. If I were President Dilma I'd wring someone's neck.
Nothing bad happened to us personally here in Búzios last year, and nothing bad is happening to us this year either. We're just getting wet. We haven't had much of a taste of summer yet, haven't put away our blue jeans and gotten out our shorts. Since Christmas, all it's done is rain. It's been all rain, all the time, with just a few days of something akin to sun. And the ten-day forecast? It shows more rain. We can't help but think about those people still suffering after one year, and the ones suffering right now.