Unfortunately, the news coming out of Rio isn't great. For those unfamiliar with local geography, the affected region is in the mountains of Rio state, around an hour outside of the state capital. Despite its proximity to Brazil's second largest city, recovery efforts are difficult.
As of Monday night, the death toll has reached 672 and is expected to climb as rescuers start digging communities out from the mud. Thousands of people lost their homes, and over 200 people are still missing. In one of the worst affected towns, reports were circulating that local vendors had jacked up the prices of basic goods, like charging R$40 for 20 liters of water, R$10 for a package of ramen noodles, and R$20 for a broom. Another report claimed that the local Red Cross in Teresópolis had mobilized staff, volunteers, doctors, and nurses to provide medical aid to victims, but were forbidden to continue operating, since the local government claimed it was in charge of relief efforts in conjunction with a local organization. For an upclose perspective in English, read this post from an American blogger in Nova Friburgo described her harrowing experience with the floods.
While global warming may be at play, flooding happens in Rio every year, though this year was the worst in decades. However, since local politics tend to be reactive, money is promised after the fact and politicians who visit affected areas try to act like the heroes, making for convenient PR opportunities of the concerned, supposedly compassionate leaders bringing aid and comfort to destitute victims. In addition, prevention efforts have been minimal, and people continue to move to and inhabit high-risk areas. As this enlightening TIME article describes:
"State governments have been equally remiss, while federal officials, when they do pay attention to the issue — money allocated to build a disaster-management center has laid untouched for two years, according to Castello Branco — have sometimes used disaster money for political purposes. More than half of last year's federal disaster-prevention funds went to Bahia state, where the minister in charge of distributing cash was running for governor, Castello Branco says."
Already, the federal government is promising a national disaster prevention system involving radar surveillance and meteorological equipment to try to prevent future tragedies. The catch? It won't be ready for at least four years. Plus, the same system was promised six years ago during Lula's administration.
In spite of, or perhaps due to these government failings, there has been a massive mobilization by Brazilians to help flood victims. Thanks to a reader for pointing out the British NGO ShelterBox is helping with relief efforts, and they also accept online donations. If you're in Brazil, here's an exhaustive list of organizations accepting donations and other ways to help. Also, if you're interested in helping abandoned or lost pets, see here. Finally, if you haven't already seen, here's how you can help from abroad.