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Floods affect the poorest of the poor – any solutions?

Every year, several thousand of the poorest families in Recife see dirty water seep and rise into their homes, sometimes taking a lot of their belongings, sometimes leaving disease in its wake, but always spreading a cloud of worry and anxiety.

Happy Child International partners with Instituto Solidare, a church-based charity located in a neighbourhood of Recife called Coqueiral.

This neighbourhood is heavily affected by the floods of the Tejipió River. This year, they were affected first in January and again in May. Twice they saw their belongings swept away. The second wave of rains were especially harsh, leaving 2,000 families without even a mattress to sleep on. The church ground floor was affected, something that had never happened before.

The question is, if the river floods every year, why do these families with children and young people continue to live in its path? Would it not make sense to leave and find safer grounds to live in?

To this question, most people in the area will probably say, “Show us where we could go, and we will follow you”. The truth is that there aren’t economically viable places for these people to move to. Greater Metropolitan Recife is rife with endangered populations living in subhuman conditions with poor sanitation, vulnerability to floods and the ever-present food insecurity.

Géssica Dias Lins de Oliveira, a social ecologist working to foster a community response to this problem tells us,

“People living in flood prone areas take the floods as a certainty. It will happen, for sure. They acquire several coping mechanisms like creating spaces higher up in their small homes to lift their more prized possessions. They keep in a state of alert during the rainy season and know to leave when the conditions get worse. Their furniture is discardable for the most part because they lose so much every year. One lady in the community expressed very well what this experience feels like, ‘I wish I could sleep in the winter like I sleep in the summer”.

In case you are wondering, people in Recife call the rainy season “winter”. Rains are expected from March to August. Temperatures, however, rarely dip below 22 ºC.

Is there a solution?

We asked Gessica about her personal hope for change. She believes change is possible when people find a voice for their concerns and start believing that together they can bring about change to their own environments.

The communities along the Tejipió River have an incredible challenge before them, but they are not giving up. They formed a network to increase their advocacy in political circles called Popular Forum for Tejipió River. This year they were encouraged to find out that the mayor of Recife announced – for the first time ever – a plan to alleviate some of the burden of residues raising the riverbed. They are now carefully following the procedures to ensure the people who suffer the most have their voice heard as plans move forward.

To find out more about their work as a group, check out the articles bellow. You will find a testimony to resilience that may encourage you to hope for better days for this planet!

Help Happy Child International to continue the vital work we do through our partners in Brazil!

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