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  • Kilomba Collective

Climate Change, Environmental Racism and Flooding in Brazil

“Floods in southern Bahia and northern Minas Gerais left thousands of people homeless at the end of 2021. Rains in Petrópolis/RJ killed more than 200 people by March 2022. Now, Alagoas and Pernambuco, especially the metropolitan region of Recife, suffer from one of the largest accumulations of rain in their history”.

All the above information was extracted from news from several portals. They all have something in common: the factor that leads to those disasters, according to them, is a natural phenomenon. However, if we take a closer look at who the victims of all these events are, we will find something interesting. Natural disasters tend to disproportionately hit Black and poor people who live in vulnerable situations. Then, why is the rain the only one blamed for such disasters?

Recife/Brazil. Credits: Reprodução/TV Bahia. Via Portal G1. May 2022.

Natural phenomena happen. With climate change, extreme events are becoming more frequent. According to Fiocruz's Climate and Health Observatory, "global environmental and climate changes, which have intensified in recent decades, can produce impacts on human health in different ways and intensities."

With quality information and research being carried out for decades, governments at the most diverse levels (federal, state, and municipal) should increasingly invest in disaster prevention and the construction of egalitarian cities. However, “between 2013 and 2021, the fall in resources allocated to five federal programs was 66%” (Associação Contas Abertas/CNN). Pernambuco, in 2013, received more than R$400 million (equivalent to $83.258.760) from the Federal Government for investment in disaster prevention. In 2021, this value dropped to 168 million reais ($34.968.679,20). Recife, a flat, low-lying city that is well aware of flooding due to rising tides and heavy rains, invested only 42.9 million reais in urbanization in risk areas in 2021. It seems like a lot, but according to councilor Ivan Moraes Filho (Twitter reproduction), the city government invested 40 million in advertising in the same year.

Petropolis, Rio de Janeir. Feb/2022. Credits: Foto: Silvia Izquierdo/picture alliance/AP. Via DW.

Many experts agree that only with serious investments it will be possible to avoid deaths and destruction since extreme weather events are already part of the global reality. It is not a matter of lack of money. The governments' lack of interest in solving the problem makes us understand that the reason is different. If only Black, Indigenous and vulnerable populations are those who lose not only material goods, but their lives, and there is no interest in solving them, the reason has a name: racism. More specifically, environmental racism. It is racial discrimination applied in environmental public policy. The exclusion of Blacks and Indigenous people from the debate. The non-demarcation of quilombola and Indigenous lands. The neglect of favelas and vulnerable communities, such as communities facing barriers in Greater Recife. It is not understanding that the climate crisis is also a humanitarian crisis.

The rains in Recife and the region will return every end of May and the month of June. Like every year. They will break records and records. It is a political choice, however, whether because of them, people will die and lose everything or not.

Tassiana Oliveira

​​Lecturer at the Department of Latin American Studies at UAlbany Post-Doctoral researcher at Cebrap |

If you want to donate and help communities in Recife, visit the following links:


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