‘Hell de Janeiro’: scorching heat highlights Brazil’s glaring inequality

Brazil has already had its eighth heatwave of the year, even though summer in the southern hemisphere is still a month away. This has caused temperatures to reach dangerously high levels.

Inmet, the national meteorological institute, issued a red alert this week for extensive areas of the country. The warning emphasized potential health hazards, including potential danger to life, as temperatures remained at least five degrees Celsius higher than the average for a period of five days or more.

The risks were made evident by the passing of a fan at a Taylor Swift show on Friday evening in Rio de Janeiro, where numerous other attendees were apparently treated for dehydration.

Ana Clara Benevides Machado, age 23, fainted at the Nilton Santos Olympic Stadium and passed away soon after reportedly experiencing a heart attack. This occurred in the midst of scorching temperatures at the venue, which were significantly higher than the official temperature of 39.1C outside.

The musician, along with supporters and government officials, shared her disbelief upon hearing about the passing. Swift posted on online platforms that she was “heartbroken” by the update and “consumed by sorrow”.

At the beginning of the performance, it was reported that fans were repeatedly yelling “water, water, water” towards the stage. This was supposedly due to being prohibited from bringing their own supplies into the stadium.

The justice minister of Brazil, Flávio Dino, announced on X that emergency regulations would be enforced to ensure that leisure establishments allow access to water for their customers. Other politicians in the area were anticipated to do the same.

After experiencing the hottest July, August, September, and October in recorded history, the temperatures in Brazil this week were anticipated to “redefine climate patterns” according to the MetSul weather company. Some specialists point to a powerful El Niño as a contributing factor to the extreme heat, while others believe that the current climate crisis increases the chances of such occurrences.

The thermometers from Inmet recorded temperatures over 40C multiple times in the center-west and south-east regions, reaching a high of 43.3C in Corumbá on the border with Bolivia on Wednesday. São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro also saw record-breaking temperatures for the year, reaching 37.7C and 42.6C, respectively. In Rio, known as “Hell de Janeiro” by residents, the heat index reached a staggering 59.7C on Saturday.

A street thermometer in Sao Paulo.

Office workers who typically work remotely returned to their air-conditioned workplaces in order to avoid the intense heat and expensive electricity bills. However, this was not possible for individuals like Flávio Figueiredo, who works as a motorbike taxi driver in the favela.

According to a 42-year-old seeking shelter under a tree at the entrance of Parque Arará, a favela situated near Avenida Brasil (one of Rio’s busiest and most polluted roads) and next to an oil refinery, the high temperatures add to the stress of work.

He mentioned that when you come to a stop on the tarmac, the temperature may feel like it’s 40 or 50 degrees, even if it’s only 30 degrees Celsius.

Similar to other places, Brazil’s stark social disparities are amplified by severe weather occurrences.

Marina Marçal, an expert in climate policy advising the Brazilian government, stated that the true effects of a heatwave are not captured by photos of busy beaches. Instead, it is seen in overcrowded buses with faulty air conditioning and public schools lacking proper cooling systems. This highlights the disparities in climate justice that need to be addressed in both urban and environmental planning.

Sweltering heat this week in Rio.

According to geographer Andrews Lucena from the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, impoverished areas such as favelas tend to experience the highest temperatures. These favelas are considered hotspots for extreme urban heat due to their inadequate building materials, lack of green spaces, and presence of unfinished structures, which contribute to the build-up and retention of heat.

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Favela residents often rely on secret connections to access electricity, and are also at a higher risk of experiencing frequent interruptions in power and water supply.

According to Luis Cassiano Silva, a resident of Arará, public officials do not pay attention to us and there is no attempt to make things better. He attributes this to systemic racism. Similar to 56% of Brazilians and 67% of favela residents, Silva identifies as Black.

The intense heat in the favela was always a discomfort for the 54-year-old, especially since he used to live in greener areas and is prone to excessive sweating. In response, he took action twelve years ago and constructed a green roof on his home, collaborating with researchers from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro to develop a prototype suitable for less stable structures.

The thriving rooftop garden helps keep the terrace below significantly cooler. “It’s beautiful,” stated the environmental advocate, but then expressed, “However, it’s becoming increasingly hot.”

Luis Cassiano on his green roof at his home in Arara Park.

According to meteorologist Dayse Moraes from Inmet, the heatwave was predicted to reach its highest point over the weekend. However, there is a possibility of a hotter than usual summer.

Marileidi Francisco, a 42-year-old shopkeeper in Arará, expressed her concern about the rising temperature, saying that she is unsure how they will manage to handle it.

Silva attempted to recreate his cooling roof, but despite his Teto Verde Favela project successfully bringing greenery to the square where Figueiredo sought shade from the sun, the rooftop gardens have not gained popularity in Parque Arará. The area continues to be a hot and chaotic mix of red bricks and corrugated metal.

Silva, while wiping his sweaty forehead, explained that local residents have simple ways to cool off, such as taking an outdoor shower or enjoying a beer at the bar. Meanwhile, just around the corner, the gangsters who dominate the neighborhood found relief by setting up a pool on the street.

Source: theguardian.com

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