The town of Cocal, with a population of 25,000, in the interior of the state of Piauî, has long been used to periodic droughts. But in late May after weeks of torrential rainfall the dam above the town ruptured with 50 billion litres of water pouring into the river. At least 11 people died and some 3,000 people were forced to leave their homes. The flooding stretched across an area of 100 kilometres. ‘What I saw was a wall of water 20 metres high’, said Wellington Dias, the state governor, aafter visiting the area. ‘It was like a tsunami’.
This disaster has occurred while inhabitants of the Amazon basin are grappling with exceptionally severe floods. The tropical forest is subject to annual flooding but this year the waters have risen faster and higher than for many decades. Just four years ago the same communities struggled with an unprecedented drought. In all, floods that began last month in the north and northeast of Brazil have driven over 400,000 people out of their homes and killed at least 49 people across 12 states. Crops have been seriously damaged.
Scientists fear that Brazil may be suffering the impact of global warming far sooner than expected. Even President Luis Inácio Lula de Silva, a known sceptic on environmental matters, is having second thoughts. ‘Something is telling us to us to be more careful with the planet. Changes are happening around the world, and we’re seeing them as well in Brazil,’ he said earlier this month.
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