Lula promises full federal effort to rebuild Rio Grande do Sul after climate disaster

State Governor cut and altered points of the Environmental Code; cities are in crisis 

Brasil de Fato | São Paulo (SP) |
More than 300 municipalities have been affected by the heavy rains in Rio Grande do Sul - Carlos Fabal/AFP

Brazil’s southernmost state, Rio Grande do Sul, has been severely affected by the heaviest rainfall in eight decades. The storms have caused significant flooding, numerous fatalities, and the displacement of thousands of families. The state's central regions were the most affected, with weather stations reporting between 50 and 100 cm of rain since last Monday (29).

The floods and landslides have caused extensive damage to homes and infrastructure, including the partial collapse of a small hydroelectric dam that resulted in a two-meter-high wave. Despite the region’s history of heavy rainfall, this event has been particularly destructive. Experts believe the increased rain is due to a combination of global warming and the recent El Niño phenomenon, which causes the eastern Pacific Ocean to warm up.

The state civil defense reported on Sunday (5) that the death toll from the heavy rains has risen to 75. There are 103 missing and 155 people injured, said the agency, which is investigating whether another six deaths are linked to the weather events.  

Of the 497 municipalities in Rio Grande do Sul, 332 were hit by the storms, directly affecting 707,000 people. Around 15,000 are in shelters, with more than 80,000 displaced. 

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has promised that the federal government will make every effort to rebuild the state of Rio Grande do Sul, which was hit hard by heavy rains. More than 300 municipalities were affected, causing significant damage and displacing many residents. This is the second time Lula has visited the region this week to assess the situation. 

During a press conference, Lula announced that the federal government would assist in restoring roads and resuming economic activities. He assured the governor of Rio Grande do Sul, Eduardo Leite, that the Ministry of Transportation will help restore the state's roads. In addition, the government's social and environmental areas will work on plans ranging from job recovery and back-to-school to preventing new climate disasters. 

Lula also emphasized the importance of not allowing people to rebuild houses in the same places where they were destroyed. He asked the municipalities, the state, and the union to locate safer land so people could rebuild their homes. Lula guaranteed that there would be no bureaucratic obstacles to the reconstruction process and that resources would be guaranteed for the actions needed to rebuild the cities. 

Cities in a severe situation 

The Rio Grande do Sul cities of Canoas and Eldorado do Sul are facing a catastrophic situation due to flooding. Canoas, a city neighboring Porto Alegre, estimates that around 200,000 people are affected by the floods. With more than 50,000 people living in risk areas, the city council on Saturday advised the population of the entire west side of the city to leave their homes and seek shelter in higher, safer places in the municipality. 


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On Saturday night (4) residents formed a human cordon to help tow a speedboat and a boat with several people in the Mathias Velho neighborhood. Eldorado do Sul also suffers from floods, with over 90% of the city underwater and 95% of residents affected. 

State Governor and the Environmental Code 

In the first year of his term, in 2019, Governor Eduardo Leite made significant changes to Rio Grande do Sul's Environmental Code, modifying or removing almost 500 points from the state's environmental legislation. The Code, which took nine years between debates, hearings, and improvements, was run over by Leite's government. 

The changes, which aimed to make requirements more flexible and favor business people, were criticized by environmentalists, who considered them a step backward in environmental protection. In some cases, the changes allowed for self-licensing. The discussion was conducted so quickly that it didn't go through the Assembly's Health and Environment Committee. 

Leite passed his proposal with 37 votes in 2019. Only 11 deputies, all aligned with the left or center-left, voted against it. The governor immediately expressed his gratitude to his supporters: "I want to congratulate the 37 deputies who voted to reform our Environmental Code so that we can, by protecting the environment, put the state on the growth path," Leite said. 

Edited by: Rodrigo Durão Coelho