The Petropolis Tragedy

The tragedy which took place on February fifteenth seems to be a clear example of history repeating itself. The city of Petrópolis, Rio de Janeiro, fell victim to its heaviest rainfall since 1932. The result was that of incredible destruction, as immense landslides and flooding left the city in ruins: homes were destroyed, cars were flipped over, and more than 170 people were killed, 200 went missing, and 900 became homeless. To anyone who lived in Brazil in 2011, the resemblance between this year’s events and what took place in the same region of Rio eleven years ago is obvious. As the death toll continues to rise and more negative effects come to light, the ongoing question lingers: could this have been avoided if the government had invested in infrastructure and preventative measures?

The mountain region of Rio has been prone to this kind of rainfall since at least 1850.In recent years data from Defesa Civil de Petropolis shows casualties reported in 1966, 1977, 1979, 1988, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2007 through 2013, and 2016-17. In 1988, the body count was 171, a record until the latest developments. Despite the eighty-page report prepared by the government discussing what measures to put in place in the case of these rain pours, the majority of yearly funding dedicated to prevention was not used. This failure of application regarding the money was partially due to the lack of monitoring over the city.

In addition, the “prince tax” placed over Petropolis has been a major topic of discussion on social media. With this highly controversial tax in place, 2.5% of every land transaction is paid to the descendants of the Brazilian royal family. Many have been challenging the outdatedness of this, and have been questioning the fact that the money could have been put towards preventative methods, especially considering that this happens frequently, affecting hundreds of people’s well-being every time. 

This month’s tragedy caught the attention of important political figures as well. While his government provided Petropolis with an emergency loan of 2.3 million reais for immediate needs, president Jair Bolsonaro proceeded  with his trip to Moscow, Russia — something he was highly criticized for due to numerous reasons, namely for not addressing his country’s needs and pursuing his own agenda. On the eighteenth (four days later), he announced that he would be making his way to the devastated city straight from Russia; this did not, however, stop the attacks directed at him, as he failed to cancel the trip. Pope Francis also acknowledged the suffering of those affected by the flood, requesting prayers for the deceased and issuing a telegram expressing his solidarity to the bishop of Petropolis.

It is vital that as an elite private school in a city such as São Paulo, Graded students be made aware of these types of situations. Most of us live in a bubble, even if it is unknowingly, and reading about these events can burst that bubble, making us more present in worldwide events, particularly in the state next door. The people who lost their lives were citizens of our own country, yet after asking students around school about the occurrence, it is clear that few of them were aware. In a prestigious school such as Graded, every student must be provided with the tools necessary to make conscious decisions and inflict change. Still, it’s difficult for this to take place if we’re not able to analyze the flaws of our own country in events like this one.