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Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from the PAR framework

Section 1
Frameworks for understanding
Challenges for vulnerability
reduction in Brazil: Insights
from the PAR framework
Over the centuries people in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) have
suffered a variety of disasters (Acosta, 1996; 1997; 2008; López-Marrero
and Wisner, 2012). This precarious situation for many residents of the
region, especially the poorest and marginalized, is increasing in the new
millennium. Between 2011 until August 2016, the region recorded 627 disasters
that killed nearly 12,000 people (EM-DAT, 2016). If we include statistics of
disasters with minor visibility and recurrent damages and losses, such as data
provided by the DesInventar project, the disaster risk profile of the region
becomes even more starkly challenging (DesInventar, 2016). Indeed, for some,
everyday life is fraught with hazards and threats that outsiders seldom perceive
(Gibson and Wisner, 2016). Only quite recently have international authorities
begun to discuss highly localized, recurrent hazards termed ‘extensive risks’ as
opposed to those that routinely capture media headlines, government and
humanitarian attention (called ‘intensive’ risks) (UNISDR, 2009).
Given different vernacular and official definitions and perceptions of hazard
and risk, it is not surprising that data sources are lacking in many cases and also,
where they exist, they may contradict. There is a long road for researchers and
agencies to travel in order to solve dual problems: the lack of disaster data as
well as weak articulation among different competing databases. For instance,
Brazil is starting a pilot project at National Centre for Monitoring and Early
Warning of Disasters (Cemaden) based on the model of DesInventar, a damage
and loss inventory approach first developed in Colombia and how used widely
in the Americas (see Chapter 12 in this book and DesInventar, 2016). Brazil also
needs to articulate different institutions to avoid duplication of efforts, to reach
consensus about damage assessment methodologies and to accept that the
database does not need to have a single owner.
But why write about data so soon in this chapter? Is this not a minor, tech-
nical issue? In fact, definitions and numbers actually impact people’s lives
(Kondo et al., 2011), and the construction of ‘disaster’ though semantics and
numerology is highly political (Desrosières, 1998; Wisner and Gaillard, 2009) as
well as culturally and socially biased (Wisner, 2010; Bankoff, 2001. The way
Victor Marchezini
Ben Wisner
58 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
public and private institutions, NGOs, media and other social actors define and
frame the disaster is important because definitions orient practices and
policies. They define what are classified as ‘social problems’ and shape the
solutions fabricated by institutions to solve them (Dombrowsky, 1998).
Numbers, words and images frame disasters as ‘event’ or ‘process’ and as
‘natural’ or ‘socio-environmental’, etc. It is important to reckon that words
matter in the field of cognitive battles and the warriors don´t have the same
quantity and forms of capital for the making of social reality (Bourdieu, 1991).
Underlying this plethora of problems that beset defining and counting
disasters is often a fundamental distortion of understanding. Despite four
decades’ research and scholarship that have revealed disasters to be
expressions of mal-development and failed development, official discourse of
many governments, scientists, media and citizens persists in calling them
‘natural’. Disasters are still understood to be exceptions to the ‘normal’ socio-
ecological state in a territory rather than the necessary consequences of root
causes to be found deeply embedded every society – in their economic,
political, social structures and processes.
This chapter introduces and uses a framework that encourages a deeper
understanding of the production of disasters in Brazil. In seeking to understand
the deeper drivers of disasters, the starting point must be the bold assertion,
“Disasters are not natural!” (O’Keefe et al., 1976; Maskrey, 1993; Marchezini,
2009; Valencio, 2012). Understanding of disasters is bound to fail if they are
mentally segregated from everyday life. They are not events that intrude on
‘normal’ life (Hewitt, 1983; Wisner et al., 2004). They are processes that result
from the social production of unsafe conditions. Unsafe conditions interact with
natural and/or technological events, and the result is loss and damage.
Risk is usually understood as the interaction of hazard, exposure and
vulnerability. Hazards include natural, biological and technological processes
that potentially endanger people and their assets. Many hazards are, in fact,
extreme forms of processes that are normally the basis people’s livelihoods.
Climate-related hazards such as flood, drought or heat wave are extreme
expressions of atmospheric processes that underpin daily life. Not as obviously,
but as surely earthquakes are part of the dynamic geology of Earth that provides
deep artesian water supplies and geothermal energy. Geographically, different
locations are more or less exposed to natural hazards (e.g. storms, droughts,
hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunami), biological hazards (e.g. dengue, Zika,
Chikungunya, Ebola) and technological hazards (e.g. dam failure, urban fires,
chemicals accidents, transportation accidents). People within these locations
are likely to suffer loss and harm depending on their characteristics and ability
to protect themselves. Sometimes the policy approach is to try to affect the
hazard itself to prevent the triggering event (e.g. engineering works to protect
from flooding). Zoning and land use planning have been used to try to reduce
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 59
exposure (see Chapter 7). Insurance schemes help to reduce susceptibility from
an economic point of view and the impact on livelihoods. However, seldom
does policy dig deeply into the root causes of vulnerability to disaster (Wisner
et al., 2004).
Hazard and exposure are well known and the concepts that are easy to
understand. By contrast, vulnerability is a complex concept, and disciplines have
several ways of defining, measuring and assessing it. The concept involves the
characteristics of people and groups that expose them to harm and limit their
ability to anticipate, cope with and recover from harm (Wisner et al., 2004, p.
12). Of course, the term ‘vulnerability’ can be used in many ways, and various
authors in this collection offered examples. Some scholars and practitioners are
interested in short-term identification of vulnerability (see Chapter 19),
mapping and listing people living ‘at risk’ (see Chapter 18). Others aim to
understand why some people are more vulnerable when facing a hazard than
others (see Chapter 21). Some scholars and practitioners have developed tools
for qualitative assessment of vulnerability and capacity in communities as a
form of cooperation between outside and local experts (see Chapter 27) and as
an aid to local preparedness planning and actions to reduce risk (see Chapter
26). Still others have used these tools as part of a broader agenda of community
mobilization and empowerment, including youth and schools (see Chapters 24
and 25). Wisner (2016) provides an overview of such a variety of ways that
vulnerability can be used as metric, model and tool.
Increasing use of the word ‘vulnerability’ does not necessarily signal a major
change in the practice of DRR and emergency management. Most practitioners
and policy makers who pronounce the word are nevertheless trapped in a
mindset that cannot imagine confronting three taboos: (1) silence about disaster
risk creation, (2) the myth of development, and (3) dominance of a security
paradigm. There is abundant evidence that “disasters are manifestations of
unresolved development problems” (Lavell and Maskrey, 2014, p. 272). This
finding has been repeated in documents published by UN agencies, such as the
Global Assessment Report of Disaster Risk Reduction 2015 (UNISDR, 2015).
According to Wisner (2016), this Global Assessment pointed out how
movements of international finance capital are creating new risks by displacing
poor populations as sections of cities are gentrified, displacing others as small
farms are erased by encroachment of foreign-owned agribusiness, and yet
others whose livelihoods are made impossible by large-scale mining operations
and other megaprojects (Holden and Jacobson, 2012; Sassen, 2014). The non-
enforcement of building standards, the legal and ‘normal’ function of capital,
land, and property markets and the illegal and corrupt practices by elites (Lewis
and Kelman, 2012) can be added to this list.
Projects of development, underdevelopment and maldevelopment create,
change and/or redistribute unequally the safe and unsafe conditions (see
60 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
Chapters 8 and 22). Latin America and Caribbean have many examples of disaster
risk creation measures in colonial and current times, as does Brazil. Private and
public investment, from international and national level, uprooted millions of
persons and driven into urban slums or entered the huge armies of migrant
labor, or engaged in armed conflicts or fend poor people for themselves.
Researchers, practitioners, policymakers and business people should analyze
more profound the root causes and dynamic processes (i.e. risk drivers)
generated by these development projects, which will require a consideration
of “governance and governability concerns, resource exploitation, the
organization of production, culture, institutional history, practice and norms,
ethical, moral and behavioural aspects” (Oliver-Smith et al., 2016, p. 29).
The root causes of vulnerability involve social and economic structures, such
as the characteristics of power, wealth and resources distribution, as well as
ideologies and historical heritage (i.e. war and post-war fragility, militarism).
Such root causes may change, albeit rather slowly. Slow change can be mistaken
for stasis, and hence some consider root causes to be structural, that is woven
into the social fabric. Root causes such as the history of slavery or uneven
economic development of sub-national regions are focused on specific people,
places and activities by the action of much more dynamic circumstances. This
set of processes can be called “dynamic pressures” and include changes on the
order of magnitude of a decade or two or three: population change, techno-
logical change, housing market boom and bust and commodity price
fluctuations. Dynamic pressures are “normally decadal-scale trends involving
business cycles, population dynamics, land use, and governance. They translate
or transmit root causes to local scale and present moment, where they produce
unsafe conditions and fragile livelihoods” (Wisner, 2016, p. 13). The result is to
unsafe conditions and fragile livelihoods. To take a simple example, the history
of slavery and interaction of racism and implantation of apartheid-like
segregation in the US South for decades following the Civil War have produced
a group of African-American small holder farmers whose livelihoods are
precarious. Changes in commodity prices (e.g. for cotton and tobacco),
increased cost of farm technology and inputs, access to bank loans and the aging
of small holder farmers have served as dynamic pressures that have channeled
root causes (e.g. histories of slavery, racism, Jim Crow reconstruction) into
particular situations of precarity. In the face of repeated flooding and tornado
damage, these small African American farmers are less likely to recovery from
storm damage.
Figure 1 provides an overview of a framework that encourages questions
about root causes, dynamic pressures, unsafe conditions and vulnerability. The
framework has had a number or more and some less formal names over the
years: Progression of vulnerability, Pressure and Release (PAR) and “Crunch”.
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 61
Figure 1 Progression of vulnerability. Source: Wisner et al. (2012, p. 23).
62 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
Progress toward focusing research on root causes has been limited and im-
plementation of policies and measures to address underlying causes is still far
from sufficient (Oliver-Smith et al., 2016). This chapter aims to use the PAR
framework (Wisner et al., 2004; Wisner et al., 2012) to identify some challenges
to reduce the social processes that create vulnerability to disasters in Brazil.
First, we apply the PAR framework to the landslides that affected Petrópolis
and other cities in 2011 and to the flooding experienced in Manaus in 2009. We
then look even further back into Brazil’s history and suggest that PAR can be
useful in understanding the human and environmental consequences of much
earlier economic and social policies.
“Order and Progress” for some, risk and suffering for others:
the rise and fall of Petrópolis
Brazil’s national motto, displayed on its national flag, is “Ordem e Progresso”.
However, the order and progress that has raised Brazil to the status of one of the
BRICS1 nations whose combined economic growth and power rivals the EU and US
has come at the cost of both creating new risk and spreading old, unattended risk
to people who have least political voice and control least wealth. Thus, for
example, deadly landslides in Petrópolis, a city in the mountains outside Rio de
Janeiro, can be traced back to 19th century beginning industrialization under
Brazil’s last emperor. In the following, we will elaborate each of the stages of PAR-
suggested analysis and then bring the full diagram together.
Root causes
Gold mining as an engine of Brazilian economic growth decreased in the 18th
century and the coffee economy became the main economic activity, creating
new drivers for disasters. The Southern regions of the country had become the
center of political and economic power since the 1800s. In 1843, Peter II – the
last emperor of Brazil – founded the town of Petrópolis which means “the city
of Peter” in the mountainous region of Rio de Janeiro state. Two years later
there were 2085 people living there (Angelo, 2012, p. 2). The first factories were
created in the town. In 1853, there was a textile factory, three breweries, a
sawmill to manufacture wood products and a shoe factory. In 1861, Peter II
inaugurated the first Brazilian highway (Union and Industry Highway), running
89 miles between Petrópolis and Juiz de Fora, an important trading center of
coffee production in the state of Minas Gerais. Petrópolis was to grow from
these humble beginnings first on the basis of capital accumulated in the coffee
sector and later as a secondary manufacturing hub near to Rio de Janeiro, and,
1. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 63
as Rio grew and became more affluent and transportation improved, a location
for holiday homes for Rio’s upper middle class.
Racism persists in Brazil and is also a root cause of vulnerability (Figure 2)
because much of the population of landslide prone hillside settlements are
people of African ancestry. According to Fernandes (1965), early 20th century
Brazil was filled with social and racial “dilemmas” and could not free itself from
the ghosts and structures of the past. The “racial dilemma” lay in the fact that
the abolition of slavery did not provide the free black people with a real
integration into white society. Former slaves were excluded from the labor
market and deprived of a professional education and of experience in the free
(competitive) labor market. They were marginalized from the on-going inclusion
and modernization processes. Nevertheless, the abolition of slavery in 1889 led
to a large-scale migration of former plantation workers to Rio. In the urban
order of new republican regime, the marginalization of former slaves found a
spatial expression. Pereira Passos, the mayor of the federal district of Rio,
imagined Rio as a “tropical Paris”. He was inspired by Hausmann’s grand-scale
planning of the French capital, with majestic boulevards, monuments, and
gardens. To achieve that, he had to destroy the “unsightly” favelas, cortiços
(tenements), casas de cômodos (rooming houses) where the city’s poor were
living. His early urban renewal project destroyed untold numbers of favelas,
1691 cortiços (Perlman, 2010, p. 26). The only available suburban land for poor
people (former slaves) was in steep and prone to landslides. These deadly
slides continue up to the present in Rio.
Figure 2 Root causes of Petrópolis disaster.
64 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
Meanwhile Petrópolis continued to be an important center of political de-
cisions during Republican period (Assumpção, 2015) and a growing center of in-
dustrial production. From 1900 to 1930, its textile industrial sector was well
established and new furniture factories were built (Angelo, 2012, p. 2). In 1928,
a new highway connection (currently named as BR-040) with Rio de Janeiro city
was opened and attracted more job seekers to Petrópolis, but the only available
suburban land in Petrópolis for these working poor was in steep and prone to
landslides (Guerra, 1995) similar to the pattern of spatial marginalization that
was already established in Rio.
Dynamic pressures
The industrialization and urbanization process were intensified since 1930s,
increasing the concentration of wealth in southern regions. The new
industrialization process, rural mechanization and rural-to-urban migration
concentrated populations, industrial sites and the production of wealth in a few
urban centers including Petrópolis (Carvalho, 2006). In the last sixty years, the
population of Brazil went from being around 30% to 84% urban. The Brazilian
urbanization process has been characterized by an unequal urban development
and land use (Maricato, 2001). Real estate speculation excluded low-income
households from the formal land market, driving them to occupy hazardous zones.
This is most critical in slums in which six per cent of Brazilians are resident (with
11.4 million people) in 323 cities. Some of the state capitals, such as Salvador, São
Paulo and Rio de Janeiro contain more than one million informally settled
households. Almost 60% of these households are situated on steep slopes (IBGE,
2013). In Rio de Janeiro city, more than 2 million people are exposed to landslides;
in São Paulo city, 3.6 million people are exposed to flashfloods (see Chapter 18).
In Petrópolis, the population increased rapidly, reaching 75,000 in 1940 and
255,000 in 1990 (Figure 3). Beginning in the 1960-1970s, tourism and service
sector became the main drivers of development, as textile manufacturing in
Petrópolis declined. The growth of tourism and the development of a market
for second homes for well-to-do people in Rio increased real estate speculation
and expansion into dangerous zones close to historical center of Petrópolis.
Moreover, in 1964, the National Institute of Historic and Cultural Heritage listed
some buildings as cultural heritage.
Year 1940 1950 1960 1970 1980 1991 2000 2010
Population 75.418 97.864 138.234 178.256 229.502 255.468 286.537 295.917
Figure 3 Population Growth in Petrópolis. Source: Ceperj (2017).
New services related to tourism opened, such as restaurants, hotels and
other commercial activities. For example, former workers of textile manufactu-
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 65
ring started producing specialty clothes for the tourist market in their own
homes, establishing a local trade now numbering more than 400 small scale
textile producers (Ambrozio, 2008).
From 1940 to 1990, 1,161 landslides and floods were registered in Petrópolis.
The 1970s showed an increased number of mass movements, although rainfall
totals were reduced (Guerra, Gonçalves and Lopes, 2007). In this decade of great
population growth in urban areas and lax environmental regulation, the rate and
form of urbanization expansion overcame precipitation as the most important
driver of landslides. Slope areas were improperly incorporated into the urban
network. In the 1980s, the number of mass movements was larger than those of
the 60s and 70s even though rainfall values were lower than the previous decade
(Guerra, Gonçalves and Lopes, 2007). The 1960s inaugurated the weakening of
Brazilian environmental legislation. In the 1970s, urban sprawling, real estate
speculation, local political interests and impoverishment drove the occupations
in unsafe areas such as slope areas. The period of 1980s was marked by the
general impoverishment of the Brazilian population due to financial crisis.
Figure 4 Dynamic pressures driving Petrópolis disaster.
66 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
From 1940 to 1990, 526 people died in disasters in Petrópolis – 300 people
in the decades of 1970-1990 (Guerra, 1995). The World Bank loaned USD 10
million to the Petrópolis municipal government for hazard management
projects, but most of the budget was spent on repairs rather than to provide
access to safe housing. In 1991, a land use plan was approved by the local
council, but local government leaders and officials have done very little to
implement the plan. According to Guerra (1995, p. 352), “the potential for
disaster continues to grow and the people of Petrópolis are at increasing risk”.
This warning was not heeded. Data from the 2010 Census Brazilian Institute of
Statistical Geography (IBGE) show that in the last ten years there has been a
growth of almost 3,000% in Petrópolis slums. While in the year 2000 the Census
identified one slum (favela), with 820 inhabitants residing in 210 households,
the survey carried out in 2010 showed that the city has 15 locations with 7,268
households and a population of 25,117 inhabitants (Ribeiro, 2011).
Unsafe locations
Twenty years after the 1991 land use plan’s enactment, Petrópolis and other
five cities of the mountain region of Rio de Janeiro state suffered one of the
worst catastrophes of Brazilian history,2 when more than 1,000 people died
during flashfloods and landslides in January, 2011. Nearly 700 persons were
classified as missed people; 34% of them (128) were young people (Valencio,
2012). Although some upper income housing was affected, the majority of the
victims came from low income households. Low income levels were, and
remain, very high in Petrópolis. More than 80% of the households in Petrópolis
have annual income below USD 684 per family (Petrópolis, 2017) – an average
of USD 1,87 a day, which is below the global poverty line set by World Bank
($1.90) (World Bank, 2015).
Poor governance and lack of political resources contributed to amplify the unsafe
conditions (Figure 5) that lead to catastrophe (Alerj, 2011). After 1950, the speed of
urbanization accelerated and outpaced almost all attempts to apply planning and
development controls. Even today, the city still lacks a sewer system and this
contributes to the environment at risks. Sewage enters local rivers, bringing
pollution and increased sediment loads; these in turn raise the elevation of river
beds and promote the spread of moisture into the soil profiles of adjacent slopes,
thereby destabilizing them - especially during summer rainy season. Moreover,
there is leakage from sewer systems in houses located in the hills, a factor that,
together with the lack of soil cover, contributes directly to the saturation of the soil
and raises the probability of mass movements (Guerra, Lopes and Filho, 2007, p. 82).
2. During Brazilian military dictatorship, the Mountain Serra das Araras, in Rio de Janei-
ro state, registered, in 1967, several landslides and 1,700 deaths (Nogueira, 2002).
However, there are few data about this disaster. Some scholars believe that military
government suppressed information about the disaster.
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 67
The National Civil Defense System is historically influenced by militarism and
is based on a control paradigm (Marchezini, 2015). These characteristics are
reproduced in municipal civil protection systems, when they exist (Valencio,
Siena and Marchezini, 2011). Contingency plans were not created together with
potentially affected people, risk mapping is not done in collaboration with
residents and is not available to the public, and other information is controlled
because policymakers and practitioners believe that people will be panic if they
have full information. The National Early Warning Center (Cemaden) was created
due this catastrophe in Rio de Janeiro state, but the alerts are not yet made public.
A large number of the people affected in 2011 are still waiting for housing
reconstruction as well as having to fend for themselves because they have low
income and limited access to formal credit (Valencio, Siena and Marchezini, 2011).
Others have been rehoused but face problems in housing complexes built without
social infrastructure (schools, hospitals, public transport) (see Chapter 22). Many
affected people came back to landslide prone areas because they are located close
to job opportunities and public services. Availability of economic opportunities are
thus an important factor in producing safe or unsafe conditions. Urban renewal
projects can also increase the extreme vulnerabilities of some groups.
Figure 5 Fragile livelihoods & unsafe locations exposing people to the Petrópolis disaster.
68 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
Problems with recovery and re-housing in Petrópolis are not unique. Brazil
has a long history of housing displacement in urban areas. Perlman (1979)
studied this process in Rio de Janeiro, noting that the policy of clearing slums
intensified after the 1930s. In 1968, Brazil’s military dictatorship created an
entity in charge of Coordination of Social Interest Housing of the Greater Rio
Metropolitan Area (CHISAM) to manage favela (slum) removal. From 1968 to
1975, CHISAM removed over “100 favelas, destroying more than 100,000
dwellings, and leaving at least half a million poor people without their homes”
(Perlman, 2010, p. 271). The dynamic pressure of mega events such as World Cup
and Olympic games continued to promote the housing displacement. According
to United Nations Human Rights Council (2009, p. 8), “1,200 social housing units
for the poor were destroyed in preparation for the Olympic Games in Atlanta
(USA). In Brazil, 170,000 were displaced due to mega-events in Rio (Ancop, 2012).
Such are the features of the progression of vulnerability that explains one
face of the landslide disaster in Petrópolis viewed through the lens of PAR. The
full diagram (Figure 7) also includes the hazards characteristics (Figure 6).
Guerra (1995) states that there are some climatological, geomorphological and
geological conditions that contributed to disasters in the mountain region of Rio
de Janeiro state (Figure 6). The region has a mean annual precipitation of 1900
mm, concentrated during the southern hemisphere summer. In this period, total
monthly rainfall may reach 300 mm. In landslide disaster of Petrópolis, the total
rainfall on 12 January 2011 was 240 mm, with a peak of 61 mm in one hour, and
between 1 and 15 January totaled 573 mm (Dourado, Arraes and Silva, 2012).
Geomorphological and geological conditions also contributed to the disaster.
Petrópolis is situated in a narrow valley. Many areas are prone to flashfloods and
landslides. More than 26% of their territory is composed by slope areas equal
or greater than 37 (Guerra, Gonçalves and Lopes, 2007). Abrupt soil-rock
contact, areas of water flow convergence, failed and fractured rocks give even
more instability to the slopes (Guerra, Lopes and Filho, 2007, p. 80). This
geological pattern, with intense fracturing, together with the typology of relief,
with steep slopes and high slopes, gives the region a large incidence of landslide
events, mainly in the areas of greater occupation, which are generally the
slopes. In pedological terms, the region has a great variety of soils, with a
predominance of ted-yellow latosols and red-yellow argisols, as well as
cambisols, especially in the talus deposits, showing areas of recent pedogenesis
that can cause high risks (Guerra, Lopes and Filho, 2007, p. 81). On 12 January
2011, more than 750 landslides occurred in an area of 350 square kilometers, an
average of at least two landslides per square kilometer. The main type of mass
movements observed in the area was debris flows and mudflow (Dourado,
Arraes and Silva, 2012).
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 69
Figure 6 Hazard characteristics in Petrópolis.
Such are the features that explains the landslide disaster in Petrópolis
viewed through the lens of PAR (Figure 7).
War, blood and rubber: risk creation in Amazonia
Droughts and floods have been reported in Amazonia since the first two
decades of the 20th century (Marengo et al., 2013). Extreme droughts were
reported in 1964, 1983, 1997, 2005 and 2010. Severe flooding episodes have
been documented in 1954, 1989, 1999, 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017
(Marengo and Espinoza, 2015; AM Post, 2016; 2017). But incidence, severity and
impacts have increased from 1970s onwards as a consequence of dynamic
pressures that have been driving disaster risk creation, particularly in the poor
parts of Manaus, the region’s largest city. Manaus has suffered severe flooding
which affected more than 400,000 inhabitants of its wetlands, where daily
reality is characterized by multiple unsafe conditions such as foul-smelling
lakes, rats, contaminated water and rivers of garbage with wood, plastic, dirty
diapers and bottles, besides the ferocious sun and malaria risk (Valencio et al.,
2012). In the following, we will elaborate each of the stages of PAR-suggested
analysis and then bring the full diagram together in order to explain the drivers
of increased vulnerability to floods in Manaus.
70 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
Figure 7 Some root causes and dynamic pressures that lead to unsafe conditions in Petrópolis.
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 71
Root causes
The Amazon rubber boom during the first two decades of the 20th century
resulted in a large expansion of European colonization of the Amazon Basin,
attracting immigrant workers, causing cultural and social transformations.
American, English, and Dutch companies needed rubber for their automobile
products and their agents forced the indigenous population into a system of
debt peonage, treated them as slaves, tortured and massacred them
(Fernandez, n/d; Prates and Bacha, 2011). Later, The US and Great Britain powers
needed supply not only of rubber but also of strategic minerals during the First
World War (1914-18), and Brazilian production of manganese at the time
increased deforestation and land use degradation.
Figure 8 Root causes of Manaus disaster.
The Second World War pressed Brazilian iron industry to provide supplies to
the US and Great Britain to build war machines and armaments. In 1942, Brazilian
government created the mining company Vale do Rio Doce whose target was to
produce 1,500,000 tons of iron ore (Machado and Figuerôa, 2001). Brazilian
government also signed an agreement with US government to provide rubber
and other necessities related to the Second World War. As the Northeast part
of Brazil had suffered an intensive drought, Brazilian government recruited
compulsorily new workers from that region through an agency named Serviço
72 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
Especial de Mobilização de Trabalhadores para a Amazônia (Special Service of
Workers Mobilization for the Amazon Region). The Rubber Development
Corporation, an international enterprise, covered the expenses of relocation.
At least 30,000 “rubber soldiers” died from tropical diseases, such as malaria and
yellow fever (Silva et al., 2010). This development strategy went further during
the Cold War, when Brazil was under control of a military dictatorship. The
military government decided to protect the territory of the Amazon region from
encroachment by neighbouring countries by imposing projects of economic
development. These mega-projects put pressure on indigenous people and
ecosystems. The pattern of natural events such as floods and droughts changed
and unsafe conditions were created.
Dynamic pressures
The constitution of 1946 called for a plan to integrate Amazonia into the
national economy, and the move of Brazilian capital from Rio de Janeiro to
Brasília in 1960 was one step toward implementing this historic mandate. A
series of federal government actions were implemented by the military regime
in 1964 and laws passed during 1966 and 1967 that were meant to accommodate
both economic and geopolitical concerns with territorial unification (Goulding
et al., 1995). The main purpose of the so-called Amazônia Operation was
infrastructure investment to link the Amazon region with the south and
northeastern parts of Brazil, an objective concretely represented in 1960 when
the Belém-Brasilia Highway was completed.
The creation of a free industrial zone in Amazonas state and the choice of
Manaus as its capital in 1967 led to population growth and to an abrupt and
chaotic expansion of the urban area. The Manaus Free Trade Zone is a free
import and export trade area where special fiscal incentives apply. It was set up
with the objective of stimulating growth of an industrial, commercial and
agricultural center in the Amazon region despite the great distance separating
it from its markets (Brasil, 1967). The Manaus Free Trade Zone covers a total area
of 10,000 square kilometers and includes the city of Manaus and the
surrounding area (Suframa, 2017).
The Amazônia Operation went further under the First National Development
Plan (1972-1974), which continued efforts to link the region with the rest of
Brazil, and stimulated both economic growth and colonization by migrants from
other parts of Brazil (Walker et al., 2009). The prime fiscal instrument offered
100% tax exemptions for enterprises investing in Amazonia, especially in
agriculture and livestock. Investors also received import and export tax
exemptions, subsidized credit, and access to special funds from both domestic
and international lenders. The principal beneficiaries of such early programs
were cattle ranching activities, consistent with investment patterns of the
World and the Inter-American Development Banks (Hall, 1989). In 1972, the
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 73
Manaus Free Trade Zone received the first industry, the Industrial Company of
Amazon, occupying an area of 45,416 m², for tin mining and then Springer
Company, for the production of air conditioners. Currently, the free trade zone
is home to more than 600 industries. In Manaus itself in 1970, there were 263
industrial units. Ten years later, the number increased to 747. In 1995, there
were 1,405 units (IPEA, 2017).
The unplanned advance of the Manaus and other towns has been one factor
contributing to the destruction of indigenous people’s livelihood and the
sustainability of water sources and native animal species. The population of
Manaus increased fivefold between 1970 and 2000, from 300,000 inhabitants to
almost 1.4 million (Figure 9). Satellite images (Figures 10 and 11) show the area
around the Brazilian city of Manaus that has gone from being a relatively
sparsely populated city to an urban area housing 99.35% of the municipality’s
1,612,475 inhabitants in 2007 (UNEP, 2010).
Figure 9 Evolution of the population of Manaus’ city from 1872 to 2010. Source:
elaborated by the authors based on data of Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia
e Estatística (2017).
This dramatic growth occurred without proper land use planning, effective
infrastructure development, or social housing programs, thus leading to a surge
in informal settlements. Urban space was expanded with the population growth
resulting from this migratory process. Numerous neighborhoods were
constituted in the periphery of the city, close to Manaus Free Trade Zone
(Scherer and Mendes Filho, 2004). Before 2002, when a new master plan was
approved, urban expansion and land development were managed according to
74 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
a plan dating back to 1975, and by confusing and disarticulated legislation and
regulations. The lack of clarity in the land use regulations was compounded by
inadequate institutional capacity to enforce them in a rapidly growing city
(Magalhães and Rojas, 2007, p. 3). Until the 1980s, the number of districts in
Manaus was approximately 37 plus the Industrial District. In 2007, the landscape
was different, with 56 districts, mostly created by spontaneous, irregular
occupations (Nogueira, Sanson and Pessoa, 2007). In 2002 and 2003 alone, more
than 100 new settlements were registered in the urban area of Manaus,
according to data from the Secretariat of Land and Housing of Amazonas –
SETHAB (Scherer and Filho, 2004; Almeida, 2005). In 2004, a monthly average
increase in urban occupancy of around 3.5 new-comers was recorded (Scherer
and Mendes Filho, 2004). Because of these dynamic pressures, the urban area
lost about 65% of its vegetation cover (Nogueira, Sanson and Pessoa, 2007).
Figures 10 and 11 Urbanization and other land use changes around Manaus city in July,
1973 (on the left) and August, 2007 (on the right). The white narrows indicate
the stream of Amazon River. Source: adapted from UNEP (2010).
Land use change, agriculture and cattle ranching are increasing deforestation
and generating effects in ecosystem. Soy cultivation is a major driver of
deforestation in the Amazon basin. Brazil has 24-25 million hectares devoted to
the growth of this crop. 80% of Amazon soy is destined for animal feed (Global
Forest Atlas, 2017). Cattle ranching are other driver of deforestation, accounting
for 80% of current deforestation rates. There is approximately 200 million head
of cattle in Amazon. Brazil supplies about one quarter of the global market.
Approximately 450,000 square kilometers of deforested Amazon in Brazil are
now in cattle pasture (Global Forest Atlas, 2017). Amazon soil is old and
intensely weathered, generally acidic, infertile, and subject to compaction from
intense solar radiation. This condition can be worsened by recurrent droughts,
such as occurred in 2005, 2010 and 2016. These conditions also reduce the ability
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 75
of soil to absorb and hold rainfall for slow release, so flooding in the region is
increasing with dramatic effects in the poorer parts of Manaus.
Additionally, institutional and political issues add more dynamic pressures
(Figure 12). Manaus is the biggest city of Amazonas state where the majority of
voters live. The year of one very large flood, 2009, was an election year. Civil
defense official of Manaus municipality competed rather than cooperated with
their counterparts from the Amazonas state civil defense organization in order
to win votes for their directors and respective political cronies. Each wanted to
appear to be providing relief more people (that is, potential voters) and the
result was very poor implementation by both (Valencio et al., 2012).
Figure 12 Dynamic pressures driving Manaus disaster.
Unsafe locations
Manaus was flooded several times before the creation of a flood early
warning system in 1989 (CPRM, 2017). In 1909, the river level reached 29,17
meters. In 1953, several cities in Amazonas’ state were affected by one of the
major floods of its history – the peak was 29,69 meters. After that, recurrent
floods upper to 29 meters were registered in 1970 (1971, 1975, 1976, 1989, 1994
and 1999). In 1999, the river reached 29,30 meters and 42,000 inhabitants of
wetlands – locally known as igarapés – were affected (CPRM, 1999). Ten years
76 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
later, the peak of river level was 47 cm higher (29,77 meters), but 400,000 were
affected (Valencio et al., 2012).
The city of Manaus is intersected by many igarapés that transect many
districts of different zones of the city. The poorer segments of the subaltern
classes have been pushed to the banks of igarapés, because they are close to
commercial and industrial activities yet are less costly to rent or were available
to squatters in the past who would build their own shelters. Unofficial data
indicated that Manaus has about 70,000 dwellings located in marginal strips of
the waterways (Scherer and Mendes Filho, 2002). These homes are precarious
dwellings on stilts – locally known as palafitas – built near or in areas subject
to flooding. Since the 19th century, especially during the period of rubber
extraction, these igarapés served as waste depositories clogged with garbage
and domestic sewage (Farias, 2015). With the implementation of the Free Trade
Zone that is located between the district of Educandos and the eastern zone of
the city, the degradation of the urban environment has been intensified by
chemical contaminants from factories and as well as by demographic increase
on the banks of the igarapés. From 1990 to 2004, the discharge of sewage in the
basin of the Educandos doubled (Scherer and Mendes Filho, 2002). Educandos
is one of the oldest and greater urban concentrations and is located close to
commercial and industrial zones in the center of the city. This district is
intersected by several igarapés such as Educandos, Mestre Chico and Quarenta.
The area has acute levels of environmental degradation and poor people living
in precarious conditions and by fragile livelihoods.
During the 2009 floods, Valencio et al (2012) stated that waste deposits,
diseases and polluted water increased the unsafe conditions (Figure 13) of
“Igarapés dos Quarenta”. When it rained or when the waters arose in the face
of the flood, the stilt houses became more exposed and households performed
coping strategies, lifting their belongings, building wooden bridges to go to
work, schools and other tasks. However, when the river level and residents are
required to raise their walkways accordingly, the risk of electrocution arises.
Electric transmission wires become closer to heads of residents, making it
dangerous to move around the complex of improvised bridges and walkways,
and decreasing residents access to public services – schools, health units, etc.
Moreover, many elderly people and people with disabilities are unable to leave
their houses during floods to go to temporary shelters.
Such are the features of the progression of vulnerability that explains one
face of the flood disaster in Manaus viewed through the lens of PAR. The full
diagram (Figure 15) also includes the hazards characteristics (Figure 14).
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 77
Figure 13 Fragile livelihoods & Unsafe locations exposing people to Manaus disaster.
Figure 14 Hazards in Manaus.
78 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
The Amazon River, with a length of 6,992.15 km from its source in the
Peruvian Andes to its mouth in the Atlantic Ocean (Martini et al., 2008), is the
longest of the world. The Basin has widely varying climatic and topographic
characteristics, with elevations ranging from sea level at the River’s mouth, to
an altitude of 6,500 m in the Andes. Its drainage area covers about 6,2 million
km2, almost 5% of all continental masses. With an average discharge of 209,000
m3 s-1 and a sediment load of 3 million tons near its mouth (Molinier et al.,
1996). At its widest point, the Amazon River can be 11 km wide during the dry
season, while during the rainy season can be up to 40 km wide (Marengo et al.,
2012). Regional and global changes have caused alterations in climate and
hydrology of the region. Such changes mainly occur through changes in land use
with the conversion of more than 600,000 km2 of tropical forests into pastures
(Sena et al., 2012). The region is also one of the wettest regions on Earth, with
rainfall ranging from 2,300–2,460 mm/year (Molinier et al., 2009).
The 2009 flood occurred during a season wherein warming in the tropical South
Atlantic and cooling La Niña conditions in the equatorial Pacific were present, and
these large-scale patterns were responsible for changes in the large-scale
circulation, leading to extreme rainfall during the austral summer and autumn of
2008-2009 (Marengo et al., 2012). Torrential rains in northern and eastern
Amazonia from November 2008 to March 2009 swelled the Amazon River and its
tributaries, including the Rio Negro on which Manaus is located (Marengo, 2010).
In April 2009, the Geological Survey of Brazil (CPRM) announced that the waters
of Rio Negro could reach an average of 29.6 m in June when the rainy season ends
in the region (Sena et al., 2012). Lima et al. (2015, p. 34) fitted a regression line
to the Rio Negro’s peak flow from 1900 and found an increasing trend so that
maximum flow at or above 28 m may become the new normal. In July 2009, the
flooding of the Rio Negro and Solimões River affected various locations in the
state of Amazonas, including the city of Manaus. The peak river reached 29,77
meters and blocked several igarapés where people lived. Igarapé Quarenta,
mentioned earlier, was one of the most affected.
Such are the features that explains the flood disaster in Manaus viewed
through the lens of PAR (Figure 15).
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 79
Figure 15 Some root causes and dynamic pressures that lead to unsafe conditions in Manaus.
80 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
Drought disaster in the Northeast: thirst for justice
Brazil has some root causes of vulnerability inherited from more than 500-
years of Portuguese colonial heritage. These are clearly expressed in the
Northeast of the country. Portuguese exploitation started there in 1550. Social
and economic structures partly explain differential vulnerability. At this point
one should recall the definition of vulnerability introduced above:
“characteristics … that influence … capacity to anticipate, cope with, resist and
recover from the impact of a natural hazard... (Wisner et al., 2004, p. 11).
Unequal distribution of power, wealth and resources can be shown to influence
strongly the ability to face and to recover from hazard events.
Highly skewed distribution of land has characterized the Northeast region since
colonial times and the emergence of sugarcane production on a large-scale basis.
Small farmers were reliant on wage labor. They could not afford some resources
such as irrigation to avoid drought. During sugarcane’s early economic dominance,
the Northeast region was affected by several droughts. Historical data show that
Portugal authorities were informed about deaths due to famines in the Northeast
during droughts of 1722 to 1728 but provided little assistance. Poor people from
this semi-arid region organized themselves and resisted social abandonment.
They looted food3 and were reprimanded and arrested by authorities. Portuguese
authorities said that poor rural people were lazy. However, these small-scale, poor
farmers were without access to any type of assistance or alternative livelihoods.
Droughts affected everybody, but large-scale landowners had resources upon
which to fall back during drought (Gareis et al., 1997).
Given these unsafe conditions, historically the landless and subsistence
farmers were left with the option of starvation or migration during droughts.
Some of these problems persist up to the present day (Branco, 2009). Although
the Brazilian government has drought monitors and weather prediction tools
that permit the control of mortality through the distribution of insurance, water
and food supplies, some root causes of vulnerability persist. In the rural
agricultural sector, livelihood options remain extremely limited due to issues
of access, poverty and marginalization. Moreover, most people have little
political voice and historically political focus has been on emergency measures
whenever drought years occur rather than creating environments that promote
increased livelihood options and diversification (Nelson, 2005). These and other
root causes, as well as dynamic pressures, need a deeper analysis in order to
understanding the progression of vulnerability to find routes to reduce it.
3. There are contemporary cases of food looting during droughts in the Northeastern
states of Paraiba, Ceará and Pernambuco. Between 1998 until 2000, 44 cases of food
looting occurred in public schools that stocked grocery (IBAMA, 2002, p. 153).
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 81
Figure 16 Root causes of vulnerability to droughts in Northeast region of Brazil. Source:
Adapted from Wisner et al. (2012).
The mineral curse: from historic gold rush to present-day
Portuguese exploitation project in Northeast region decreased when
sugarcane production declined during the 18th century. This colonial project
was succeeded by other Portuguese economic adventures that reveal how a set
of dynamic pressures generated vulnerabilities in the province of Minas Gerais,
in the Southeast region, and these, in turn, derive from the same set of root
causes. This is a classic example of how economic development for some
creates risk for others.
Minas Gerais attracted migration from several places to work in gold and
silver mining, including people from the Northeast who faced recurrent
droughts. The excitement caused by abundant gold, silver and diamonds led to
a rapid deforestation and population change estimated to be between 30,000
and 50,000 inhabitants in 1705 engaged in mining activities (Figure 17). Between
1700 and 1801 some 715 tons of gold was extracted in the province of Minas
Gerais, forty percent of the 18th century world’s production (Machado and
Figuerôa, 2001). During this “gold cycle”, many countries in Latin America were
exploited by Spain and Portugal and several towns were built due to support
mineral exploitation.4
4. An important university research network across Africa has adopted that name, Peri Peri
82 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
Figure 17 Examples of dynamic pressures that increase vulnerability to disaster in Minas
Gerais state. Source: Adapted from Wisner et al. (2012).
In Brazil, mining exploitation caused deforestation, demanded new workers,
induced unplanned occupation of hills prone to landslides, in floodplains areas,
as well as opening highways to distribute the production to ports in coastal
zones. In Minas Gerais state, towns such as Mariana, Ouro Preto, Sabará, São
João Del Rei, and Diamantina were founded during the gold cycle. Today, these
cities and another 143 towns of Minas Gerais are highly exposed to floods and
landslides (Brasil, 2017).
The historically established location of these cities are among the root
causes of contemporary risk and vulnerability. But there are more recent
dynamic pressures that increase their disaster risk profile. In Minas Gerais in the
20th century some 700 tailing waste dams were constructed to increase the
capacity of mining production (CBDB, 2011). During global mining booms in
order to maximize profit from high prices, the capacity of tailing dams may be
reached, leaving no buffer and also increasing the risk of dam collapse. This
seems to have been the case in Brazil.
Davies and Martin (2009) reported that from December 1968 through to August
2009, there were 143 tailings dam incidents around the world. They state, “from
the available information, there appears to be a lag of between 2 and 2.5 years
from the end of a mining boom to the start of a two-year period of increased
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 83
frequency of tailings dam incidents” (Davies and Martin, 2009, p. 5) (Figure 18).
Such a mineral price related dynamic pressure seems to have been implicated in
the recent disaster that occurred in November 2015, when the tailing dam
collapsed in Mariana town, Brazil, during a political and financial crisis.
Figure 18 Adjusted copper price and tailings dam incidents. The figure plots both the
tailings dam incidents (per two year period), and the inflation-adjusted copper
price. While the time lag between the peak in the adjusted copper price and
the peak of the tailings dam incidents varies for each cycle, it is very clear that
each commodity price cycle peak, as represented by the copper price, can be
correlated to a subsequent peak in the number of tailings dam incidents.
Source: Davies and Martin (2009).
According to Carmo et al. (2017), about 43 million m3 of tailings (80% of the total
contained volume) were unleashed, generating mud waves 10m high, killing 19
people and causing irreversible environmental damage to hundreds of watercourses
in the basin of the Doce River and associated ecosystems. Forty downstream
municipalities were affected and hundreds of thousands of people (included
indigenous) were left without access to clean water. The tailings directly hit 135
identified semideciduous seasonal forest fragments, resulting in 298 ha of
vegetation suppression. The tailings also directly hit 863.7 ha of Permanent
Preservation Areas associated with watercourses, which were in protected areas,
as defined by the Federal Forest Code. In addition, 294 small creeks were affected
by the tailings. Out of the 806 buildings directly hit by the tailings, at least 218 were
completely destroyed. These were residences, public buildings, commercial real
estate, centennial churches and ancient farms distributed among 10 districts of five
municipalities. Bento Rodrigues, just 6 km from the Fundão dam, was the most
damaged district with 84% of the affected buildings totally destroyed. Areas of
84 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
cultural heritage also suffered greatly. Damages include at least two archeological
sites, six places of historical and cultural interest, more than 2,000 pieces of sacred
material heritage. One of the main cultural heritage assets irreversibly affected was
the São Bento chapel, an 18th-century building surrounded by stone walls.
Considering that the disaster occurred in one of the most important regions for
biodiversity conservation, it is estimated that the loss was significant (Fernandes et
al., 2016). Tons of fish from 21 different species died in large numbers (IBAMA, 2015).
Isolated reports have identified the death of large mammals, such as the South
American tapir (Tapirus terrestris L.), as well as turtles, birds, amphibians and
invertebrates (Carmo et al., 2017).
From knowledge to action for vulnerability reduction
There are several challenges for reduction of vulnerability to disasters if the
approach is to deal with root causes and dynamic pressures. There is a long list
beginning with the improvement of governance, increasing transparency and
decreasing corruption. These are difficult, highly political tasks, as is the
promotion of building code application and safe housing, restoration of
deforested areas, and strict avoidance of mega-projects that threaten to create
new risks.
One of the first challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil and the rest
of Latin America and the Caribbean is how to provoke dialogical conversations
among governments, scientists, media, private institutions, NGOs and citizens
so that disasters are seen as central to civil life and economic prosperity and no
longer mentally segregated from everyday life as events that intrude on
“normal” life. This task is essential if we want to research, plan and implement
measures to reduce vulnerability.
Dialogue is a way of knowing; it is not a mere technique to involve people
in a particular task. It is an indispensable component of the process of both
learning and knowing that involves generalizing experiences shared in the
dialogue process (Freire and Macedo, 1995). Every dialogue must require an
ever-present curiosity about the object of knowledge: “Are disasters an act of
God?” “Are disasters natural?” “Does everyone suffer equally?”. Curiosity
demands familiarity and experience with the object of knowledge in order to
enable people to apprehend and comprehend it, transforming their lived
experiences into knowledge (Freire, 2005). Thousands of people in LAC and
Brazil in particular have experienced disasters; governments have elaborated
disaster risk management plans; scientists have been productive in publishing
about disasters. Journalists, novelists, poets, singers, painters and sculptures
have evoked memories of past disasters. But when and how do these actors
ever sit together? When and how do they bring their experiences and
knowledge together with trust and mutual respect? What are these actors
doing together in order to reduce vulnerability to disasters? How are ordinary
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 85
people ever engaged in these conversations? A conversation among these
stakeholder groups is required as a necessary, but not sufficient condition for
a transformation in the public approach to disasters.
Paulo Freire (2005) used the word ‘dialogue’ in a different and more focused
way. He referred to a process by which oppressed people (such as the millions
of slum dwellers vulnerable to landslides and flooding in Brazil) confront,
recognize and discuss what oppresses them. The pedagogy of the oppressed,
a phrase Freire coined, has two distinct stages. The first stage is the
confrontation that occurs through the change in the way the oppressed
perceives the world of oppression. The second stage occurs through the
expulsion of the myths created and developed in the old order (Freire, 2005).
Freire pointed out several situations of oppression that can be applied to
reflecting about unsafe conditions that lead to disasters. For this Brazilian
educator and philosopher, “violence is initiated by those who oppress, who
exploit, who fail to recognize others as persons—not by those who are
oppressed, exploited, and unrecognized. It is not the helpless, subject to terror,
who initiate terror, but the violent, who with their power create the concrete
situation which begets the ‘rejects of life’” (Freire, 2005, p. 53). The word
‘violence’ in Freire’s quotation also covers harm to others that is built into the
legal and property system, thus is ‘structural violence’ (Farmer, 2004). So in a
case where people living in an informal urban settlement are legally displaced
so that the property owner can build a hotel, and now are forced to live in a
more precarious location, a dialogue among the displaced might lead to the
following questions. “Who are creating the concrete unsafe conditions that
lead to disasters?” “Who are the oppressors?” When a sufficient organized mass
of risk bearers ask these questions, political pressure increases on those with
economic and political power to regulate, reform and, eventually, to transform:
reversing the progression of vulnerability and releasing the pressures framed
as PAR and producing a progression of safety that takes the general form
represented in Figure 19.
In the Brazilian context (Figure 20) suggests the outlines of a progression of
safety from flooding and landslides. We offer this in humility in the face of the
great deal of empirical research accumulating in Brazil, and also with a warning
(caveat emptor!): PAR in any form is simply a framework for generating
questions and formulating hypothesis. PAR is not a model of reality, but a way
of helping research to ask pertinent questions about processes at various spatial
and temporal scales of possible relevance to understanding specific unsafe
conditions and fragile livelihoods. So some of the categories in Figure 19 will
simply not be relevant although it is good for the researcher to consider them
and then put them aside. Likewise, our best guess in creating Figure 20 by no
claims to be more than that, a first approximation we hope other researcher may
follow up.
86 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
Figure 19 The progression of safety. Source: Wisner et al. (2012).
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 87
Figure 20 Progression of safety from flooding and landslides in Brazil. Source: Adapted from Wisner et al. (2012).
88 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
In this chapter, we used PAR framework to encourage a deeper
understanding of the production of disasters. We pointed out some root causes
of vulnerability and dynamic pressures that contributed to disaster risk creation
in colonial and current times in Brazil. Root causes involve social and economic
structures, such as the characteristics of power, wealth and resources
distribution and ideologies. Dynamic pressures include changes on the order of
magnitude of a decade or two or three: business cycles, population change,
technological change, governance, land use, housing market boom and bust and
commodity price fluctuations. Private and public investments, from
international and national level, create, change and/or redistribute unequally
the safe and unsafe conditions. These unsafe conditions interact with natural
and/or technological events, and the result is loss and damage.
Dialogues about disaster risk creation and reduction of vulnerability are
extremely important in finding ways to put knowledge into action. Freire’s
classic book, Pedagogy of the Oppressed reasons that both the oppressed
consciousness and the oppressor consciousness must be taken into account, as
well as their respective behavior, their view of the world, and their ethics.
Researchers, practitioners, policymakers and business people should analyze
more profoundly the root causes and dynamic processes (i.e. risk drivers)
generated by development projects, which will require a consideration of
“governance and governability concerns, resource exploitation, the organization
of production, culture, institutional history, practice and norms, ethical, moral
and behavioural aspects” (Oliver-Smith et al., 2016, p. 29).
Freire’s notion of the pedagogy of the oppressed adds a vital energy or
peppery spice5 (what’s called piri piri or peri peri in several African languages)
to what has by now become bland, repetitive ‘community consultation’ or, in
the tired words of the UNISDR, ‘community participation’ and most of the so-
called community-based disaster risk reduction (CBDRR) practiced by
international non-governmental organizations. With some exceptions, such
nominally ‘participatory’ or ‘participative’ processes result in finding ways to
convince local people to accept solutions of external ‘experts’ (Chandra and
Acosta, 2013; Community and Regional Resilience Institute, 2017). Often the
process gets off on the wrong foot by nudging or guiding participants toward
the ‘question’ or ‘problem’ as the outside agency understands it. As the saying
goes, “if you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” On the slopes of
an active volcano, one agency was surprised that people rated water supply
their biggest problem, not eruption (Wisner and Gibson, 2016). By contrast,
5. According to Freire (2005, p. 49), “praxis means the reflection and action upon the world
in order to transform it”.
Challenges for vulnerability reduction in Brazil: Insights from... 89
Freirean dialogue varies in accordance with historical conditions and the level
at which the oppressed perceive reality (Freire, 2005). By contrast, such
pedagogy is not a top-down imposition of knowledge, a filling up of ignorance
with expertise, but a process based in trust and mutual respect. Local knowledge
and outside specialist knowledge can find common ground and directions for
action. But for such dialogue to take place, scientists have to evaluate their praxis
in order to identify if science and technology have been used to reduce people
to the status of ‘things’, as mere objects of scientific interest, defining them as
alien entities, stealing their words. According to Freire (2005, p. 131-132), “those
who steal the words of others develop a deep doubt in the abilities of the others
and consider them incompetent. Each time they say their word without hearing
the word of those whom they have forbidden to speak, they grow more
accustomed to power and acquire a taste for guiding, ordering, and commanding
(…). Under these circumstances, dialogue is impossible”.
Dialogue is not only important among risk bearers, the oppressed, but also
among risk creators, the oppressors. The authors of the first edition of At Risk
wrote in 1994 that they wanted corporate planners and decision makers to be
among their audience. They argued that no investment is risk neutral (Blaikie
et al., 1994, p. 7; Blaikie et al., 1996, p. 28; Wisner et al., 2004, p. 33). They wrote
then, perhaps with naiveté (Blaikie et al., 1994, p. 7), that the first group in our
audience should be
(…) the group that creates and maintains the vulnerable condition of others.
Such groups include major owners of resources at international, national, and
local levels … foreign agribusiness firms, investment bankers, civil engineering
contractors, and land speculators. In some cases they may be unaware of the
consequences their decision have for the vulnerability of others.
The authors of At Risk assumed that some of those who “create and maintain
the vulnerable conditions of others” do so unintentionally, and that awareness
could produce the basis for negotiated improvements in public policy and
private investment. Corporate social responsibility is not a myth or a lie;
however, not all private sector actors are socially responsible. There is such a
thing as willful ignorance, or even intentionally proceeding to create risk
through spatial and technical investment decisions, voiding regulations through
bribery and other corrupt practice.
As Allan Lavell writes in the Preface to this book, a critical mass of research
in Brazil and an emerging network of researchers connecting with each other in
Brazil and with their counterparts in the Spanish speaking Americas are very
much to be welcomed. Not all of this research nor all these researchers use the
PAR framework of the methods developed by the FORIN project to be discussed
in Chapter 2. This is as it should be. Some use the SoVI approach. Some are in
the process of developing their own frameworks and methods. There is no one
90 Reduction of vulnerability to disasters: from knowledge to action
single best approach to studying and helping to mobilize support for resisting
disaster risk creation. What’s important and to be welcomed is that so many
attempts are being made to bring disaster risk into the center of debates about
economic and social development, what it means to be a citizen and what is
required by governments to keep faith with their populations.
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implantação da infra-estrutura de saneamento nas palafitas do Igarapé do Quarenta –
bairro Japiim – Manaus/AM”. PhD diss. Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Norte.
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Assumpção, Rafaela dos Santos Facchetti Vinhaes. “Petrópolis - um histórico de desastres
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... Beyond the impacts on human lives and injuries, the economic consequences are also serious whereestimates are around R$ 78,000,000 (FIRJAN, 2022). 490 Marchezini and Wisner (2017) found a series of dynamic pressures when analyzing disaster risks in Petropolis: societal deficiencies (lack of planning and investments), business cycles, dense urbanization with population change, deforestation, poor governance, weakening of environmental legislation, real estate speculation andland use change. They gathered the root causes (social and economic structures, history and culture heritage and ideologies) and factors related to unsafe locations, such as sewage leaking into soil, limited skills and formal education, marginalized groups and individuals, lack of access to 495 formal credit and lack of disaster preparedness. ...
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On February 15, 2022, the city of Petrópolis in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, received an unusually high volume of rain within three hours (258 mm). It resulted in flash floods and subsequent landslides that caused 231 fatalities, the deadliest landslide disaster recorded in Petrópolis. In this paper, we analyzed the root cause and the key triggering factors of this landslide disaster by assessing the spatial relationship of landslide occurrence with various environmental factors. Rainfall data were retrieved from 1977 to 2022, while other remote sensing data from 1985 to 2020, were utilized to map the landslide scars, soil moisture, terrain attributes, line-of-sight displacement (land surface deformation), and urban sprawling .. to. The results showed that the average rainfall for February 2022 was 200 mm, the heaviest recorded in Petrópolis since 1932. From the rainfall spatial distribution, heavy rainfall was also recorded mostly in regions where the landslide occurred. As for terrain, 23 % of slopes between 45–60° had landslide occurrences and east-facing slopes appeared to be the most conducive for landslides as they recorded landslide occurrences of about 9 to 11 %. Regarding the soil moisture, higher variability was found in the lower altitude (842 m) where the residential area is concentrated. From our land deformation assessment, the area is geologically stable, and the landslide occurred only in the thin layer at the surface of the 1,700 buildings found in the region of interest, 1,021 are on the slope between 20 to 45° and about 60 houses were directly affected by the landslides. As such, we conclude that the heavy rainfall was not the only cause responsible for the catastrophic event of February 15, 2022; a combination of unplanned urban growth on slopes between 45–60°, removal of vegetation, and the absence of inspection were also significant elements of this natural disaster.
... That decision-making suggests that the municipality of Guarulhos was under water stress for an extended period before the climate hazard. In that sense, it is necessary to examine the vulnerability levels of different social groups, which results in significant social and environmental pressure without observation of the drought hazard (MARCHEZINI; WISNER, 2017;WISNER et al., 2003). ...
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Frequent cases of water scarcity in Brazil reveal a water governance and administration crisis. During the water crisis (2013-2016), the São Paulo Metropolitan Region experienced a disaster scenario. This article analyses how it was constituted as a socially constructed disaster episode. A case study was carried out in the Novo Recreio neighbourhood (Guarulhos, SP) through ethnographic observations, interviews, and newspaper articles. The results were analysed based on the Pressure and Release Model (PAR). It was concluded that the water crisis period in SPMR has disproportionately affected the Guarulhos population, especially in Novo Recreio. Furthermore, the study demonstrated that public policies and the neighbourhood's territorial formation are related to its population's current frail living conditions and increased socio-environmental vulnerability in the face of continuous water scarcity, thus corroborating the social construction of the risk of water scarcity.
... CARE Brasil is active in eight states of Brazil and since 2010 has been working in emer gencies by mobilizing its staff to provide humanitarian aid to the inhabitants of the most vulnerable areas, especially in the mountainous parts of Rio de Janeiro state (CARE Brasil, 2011), where around 1,000 people died during landslides and flashfloods in Janu ary 2011 (Marchezini & Wisner, 2017). LNGOs also responded. ...
International nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) and national NGOs (NNGOs) attempt to play many roles in disaster risk reduction (DRR) and governance of natural hazards. Although in this part of the world, disaster risk management has conventionally been the domain of government and military, a number of factors have favored engagement by civil society actors. These factors include increasing budget pressure on governments, in part due to a shift of donor finance from LAC to Africa, that predisposes them to sharing the cost of DRR. Another factor is the growing consensus worldwide that DRR must include proactive preparedness and vulnerability reduction and not simply emergency response. Besides their more recent entry into humanitarian action, civil society actors work in other roles that assist comprehensive, prospective-preventive DRR. These roles include community and local mobilization and bridging between governments and citizens. As advocates, especially in alliance with academia, they attempt to influence national government policy. Some civil society organizations also campaign on issues of malgovernance including corruption that reduce the effectiveness of DRR initiatives. NNGOs also attempt to introduce risk-bearers’ voices, knowledge, and institutional memory to policymakers. They may also help to introduce innovative local governance practices, in particular attempting to link DRR, climate change adaptation (CCA), and development service delivery. Civil society work may show the use of innovative methods and model with pilot projects the integration of DRR, CCA, and enhancement of livelihoods Civil society organizations also contribute to societal transformation through their actions to support transparency, democracy, and distributive and restorative justice.
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Sociologia Pragmática das Transformações em Diálogo: Riscos e Desastres no Brasil Contemporâneo. Fabrício Cardoso de Mello, Teresa da Silva Rosa, Marcos Barreto de Mendonça, Francis Chateauraynaud, Josquin Debaz (organizadores).
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No capítulo “O mapeamento participativo como ferramenta de educação ambiental para a sustentabilidade, de Carolina Carvalho et al., são apre-sentados conceitos e abordagens de mapeamentos participativos, funda-mentados pelos preceitos de educação, aprendizagem, abordagens parti-cipativas e mapeamento. Os autores discutem brevemente três casos no estado de São Paulo (Brasil), localizados em diferentes contextos geográfi-cos - desde a Serra da Cantareira, nas proximidades de Guarulhos, na Serra da Mantiqueira, em São José dos Campos até Serra do Mar, em Ubatuba. Os autores observaram que existe um grande potencial de projetos que envolvem mapeamentos participativos para a educação ambiental, indicando que distintas ferramentas de mapeamentos – Quantum GIS, Maptionnaire, cartografia social entre outras – podem ser usadas em abordagens com jovens e comunidades.
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A obra procura colaborar com textos que abordam práticas educacionais ligadas à participação, cocriação e corresponsabilidade, sendo essa a base conceitual que transita por todas as experiências descritas, considerando-se esse tripé como estruturador do que chamamos de educar para a criação de uma nova cultura da sustentabilidade. Nesse tripé, participar significa encontrar espaços de expressão, inclusivos e democráticos, estimulando-se o pensamento crítico; cocriar significa gerar respostas sistêmicas e inovadoras a partir da inteligência coletiva e de sua capacidade ampliada de compreensão das diversas facetas dos desafios em questão; e corresponsabilizar significa perceber, a partir dos processos de reflexão crítica coletivos, o compromisso individual e coletivo sobre as gêneses dos problemas e sobre a produção de respostas para a criação de um mundo mais sustentável.
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The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 (SFDRR) and its implementation is evaluated after its first five years. A dozen questions that the author and a colleague used in their evaluation of the Hyogo Framework for Action 2005–2015 (HFA) are repeated. Improvements are noted in relation to possible coherence and alignment with other components of the Post-2015 Agenda, especially as regards climate change and urban disasters as well as the higher visibility of civil society and women, and also regarding the specificity of targets and monitoring of governments’ successes. Nevertheless, the overall conclusion is that both the HFA and the SFDRR fail to deal with root causes of disaster. A new, radically proactive leadership role is suggested for the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction in partnership with civil society in identifying and warning all engaged in Post-2015 Agenda activities of possible creation of new risk by agenda implementation activities, especially for the poor and already-marginalized.
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After the collapse of the Fundão dam, 43 million m³ of iron ore tailings continue to cause environmental damage, polluting 668 km of watercourses from the Doce River to the Atlantic Ocean. The objectives of this study are to characterize the Fundão Tailings Dam and structural failures; improve the understanding of the scale of the disaster; and assess the largest technological disaster in the global context of tailings dam failures. The collapse of Fundão was the biggest environmental disaster of the world mining industry, both in terms of the volume of tailings dumped and the magnitude of the damage. More than year after the tragedy, Samarco has still not carried out adequate removal, monitoring or disposal of the tailings, contrary to the premise of the total removal of tailings from affected rivers proposed by the country's regulatory agencies and the worldwide literature on post-disaster management. Contrary to expectations, there was a setback in environmental legal planning, such as law relaxation, decrease of resources for regulatory agencies and the absence of effective measures for environmental recovery. It is urgent to review how large-scale extraction of minerals is carried out, the technical and environmental standards involved, and the oversight and monitoring of the associated structures.
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We review the ecological and socio-economic impacts of the catastrophic dam failure in Mariana, Brazil. Tailing management practices by Samarco mining company ultimately caused a dam breach that abruptly discharged between 55 and 62 million m³ of tailings into the Doce River watershed. On November 5th, 2015, a tsunami of slurry engulfed the small district of Bento Rodrigues, loading the Doce River and its estuary with toxic tailings along a 663.2 km trajectory, extending impacts to the Atlantic coast. Acute ecological impacts will adversely affect livelihoods of more than 1 million people in 41 riparian municipalities by reducing local access to fisheries resources, clean water, crop production sites, hydroelectric power generation and raw materials. The threats to riverine human communities are particularly critical for the disadvantaged populations from remote areas that rely on subsistence agriculture and fisheries, and are uniquely vulnerable to long-term heavy metal exposure. At the landscape scale, we predict multiple negative impacts, ranging from alterations of the genetic diversity of fish populations to long-term vegetation loss and poor regeneration in contaminated areas. Consequently, compromised soil stability and runoff control will increase the risk of further geomorphologic disturbance, including landslides, bank failure and mass movements. We propose spatially explicit long-term monitoring frameworks and prioritary mitigation measures to cope with acute and chronic risks. We posit that, from a national perspective, disastrous impacts like that of Doce River may become more frequent, given the recent regulatory changes that undermine both institutional governance structures and enforcement of environmental regulation.
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Esse artigo aborda a ocorrência de movimentos de massa no município de Petrópolis, levando em conta o seu crescimento urbano, em conjunto com as características físicas. Alem disso, foi também pesquisado como a escala temporal, com o objetivo de compreender como a urbanização desorganizada tem causado diferentes tipos de movimentos de massa, que tem levado a mortes, bem como diferentes tipos de prejuízos, na cidade de Petrópolis. Ao mesmo tempo, esses tipos de degradação de terras causam prejuízos e tornam as encostas com maiores riscos para a ocupação humana.
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to report on the creation of innovative methods for engaging in conversations about everyday risk. Design/methodology/approach A range of methods from conventional survey research to open-ended, semi-structured conversations and focus groups were used in the series of studies that serve as the subject of this meta-study. The meta-study uses participant observation, key informant interviews and project reports to narrate and evaluate the evolution of Frontline as an action planning, monitoring, advocacy and research tool. Findings The Views from the Frontline (VFL) methods began as the bottom-up mirror of a top-down monitoring approach used by the United Nations (Hyogo Framework for Action Monitor). Limitations of such bottom up monitoring led to creation of guidelines for formalising local knowledge resulting from actions – Action at the Frontline (AFL) and, later, Frontline, a flexible tool for eliciting experiences of everyday risk. The earlier VFL monitoring approach had shared outsiders’ assumptions about the nature of the “problem” and limited the degree to which local residents could express their own experiences and priorities. Originality/value Extensive use of this suite of methods has shown that civil society organisations are fully capable of conducting credible research when properly supported and motivated. Use of these methods has so far provided strong support for policy advocacy at the global scale, has had moderate success in liaison with national policy makers and slow but promising results as a learning/action tool at the local scale. Frontline has as yet untapped potential as a resource for academic research.